Arrested for having sex with men, this gay civil rights leader could finally be pardoned in California

Gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who helped plan the 1963 March on Washington, is photographed in his New York office in 1969.

By Samantha Schmidt

A decade before Bayard Rustin became a chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, the civil rights activist was booked into a Los Angeles County jail on suspicion of “lewd vagrancy.”

On that night in January 1953, hours after Rustin had given a speech in Pasadena, Calif., police officers spotted him in a parked car, having sex with one of the other two men in the car. Rustin was sentenced to 60 days in jail and forced to register as a sex offender for the “morals charge,” which was often used to target gay people in those years.

Rustin would ultimately become one of the key leaders of the civil rights movement. He advised the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on nonviolent tactics, helped organize the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott and helped create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. But the arrest remained a stain on his record, nearly exiling him from the movement he helped build.

Now, on the anniversary of his arrest, lawmakers in California are asking Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to posthumously pardon Rustin and “right this wrong.”

“There’s a cloud hanging over him because of this unfair, discriminatory conviction, a conviction that never should have happened, a conviction that happened only because he was a gay man,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, chair of California’s legislative LGBTQ caucus.

In a news conference Tuesday, Wiener joined with Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, chair of the state’s legislative black caucus, to formally ask the governor for the pardon.

While the state has repealed many of the discriminatory laws that targeted black and LGBTQ people such as Rustin, Wiener wrote in a letter to the governor, “we must acknowledge and make amends for the harm that California’s past actions have had on so many people. Pardoning Mr. Rustin will be a positive step toward reconciliation.”

In response, Newsom released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying he “will be closely considering their request and the corresponding case.”

“History is clear. In California and across the country, sodomy laws were used as legal tools of oppression,” Newsom said in the statement. “They were used to stigmatize and punish LGBTQ individuals and communities and warn others what harm could await them for living authentically. I thank those who are advocating for Mr. Bayard Rustin’s pardon.”

Wiener came up with the idea over a breakfast with longtime LGBTQ activist Nicole Ramirez, who has spent years seeking a postage stamp dedicated to Rustin. Ramirez said he has heard concerns from some officials that Rustin’s arrest record could get in the way of the stamp approval process.

The stamp, Ramirez said, would help honor a leader who paid a steep price for living authentically as a gay man at a time when he could be arrested, fired and even hospitalized for his sexuality.

“For him to come and speak out and be openly gay, can you imagine that?” Ramirez said. “He was subjecting himself to more than that arrest but to commitment to a state hospital.”

Ramirez met Rustin briefly during a march in Washington in 1987, shortly before Rustin’s death. But at the time, Ramirez didn’t know who Rustin was, he said.

For decades, Rustin has been overlooked as a key strategist of the civil rights movement, historians say.

“Early on, he wasn’t so well known because the civil rights leaders tried to keep him in the shadows … they were fearful of being tainted by Bayard’s gay sexuality,” said Michael Long, who wrote a young-adult book about Rustin and edited a collection of letters by the civil rights leader.

From left, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin, leaders of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., leave the Montgomery County Courthouse on Feb. 24, 1956.

After his arrest in California in 1953, Rustin’s career nearly derailed. He was forced to cancel all upcoming speaking engagements and resign from his position with a pacifist organization, the Fellowship for Reconciliation, Long said. He struggled to find work, and even began doing manual labor as a furniture mover, said Walter Naegle, Rustin’s partner for the last decade of his life.

Naegle described the fallout from his arrest as a “very dark period.”

“I remember him saying he would be walking around in the streets and checking phone booths for loose change,” said Naegle, now 70.

Rustin had been arrested before, for nonviolent protests that included refusing to leave white areas of local movie theaters and restaurants. But it was this arrest that was used to humiliate him and tarnish his reputation. While Rustin never hid his sexuality, he was deeply aware of the way it could affect his work.

In a letter written in March 1953, about three months after his arrest, Rustin wrote: “I know now that for me sex must be sublimated if I am to live with myself and in this world longer.”

Rustin eventually landed a role with the War Resisters League, launching him back into the civil rights movement, Long said. But his sexuality continued to threaten to sideline him. In 1960, after threats from powerful Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (N.Y.), King pushed Rustin out of his inner circle, and Rustin resigned from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

But then, in 1963, as leaders planned the March on Washington, Rustin’s longtime mentor, A. Philip Randolph, appointed him as a key organizer of the gathering. Rustin was tasked with steering the logistics of the massive event, coordinating between civil rights groups and recruiting off-duty law enforcement personnel to serve as marshals.

As the march approached, Sen. Strom Thurmond (S.C.) attacked “Mr. March-on-Washington himself” on the Senate floor, dredging up Rustin’s arrest record from Pasadena.

“The words ‘morals charge’ are true. But this again is a clear-cut case of toning down the charge,” Thurmond said on the Senate floor. “The conviction was sex perversion and a subsequent arrest of vagrancy and lewdness.”

At a news conference in 1963, Bayard Rustin points to a map showing the path of the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

But this time, the organizers of the march — including King — stood by Rustin. And even as his sexuality was repeatedly used against him, Rustin never shied away from it, Naegle said.

“They really picked the wrong guy,” Naegle said. “The thing that separated Bayard from many people was he wasn’t going to be silenced.”

In a recently released interview with the Washington Blade, Rustin said: “It was an absolute necessity for me to declare homosexuality because if I didn’t I was a part of the prejudice. I was aiding and abetting … the prejudice that was a part of the effort to destroy me.” He couldn’t be a “free whole person,” he said, living in the closet.

The week after the March on Washington, the cover of Life magazine featured not a photo of King, but of Randolph and Rustin, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

More than two decades later, upon his death in 1987, Rustin’s obituary was featured on the front page of the New York Times, identifying him as a civil rights activist and chief organizer of the March on Washington.

But it barely mentioned his identity as a gay man. In the obituary, Naegle was referred to not as Rustin’s partner but as his “administrative assistant and adopted son.”

It wasn’t until recent years that Rustin began to receive recognition not only as a major civil rights leader but as a rare example of an openly gay leader at the time.

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, Naegle traveled across the country organizing programs dedicated to spreading the word of Rustin’s legacy. And in 2013, Obama posthumously honored Rustin with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, noting his role as an openly gay African American who “stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.”

A pardon from the California governor would represent much more than personal vindication for Rustin, Naegle said. It would recognize the injustice and damage done to scores of other members of the LGBTQ community who never received the same level of recognition as Rustin.

“He survived, he thrived, he did fine, but there were a lot of people that didn’t,” Naegle said.

To Long, a pardon would be “an affirmation of what Rustin knew all along: that he was not a criminal for being gay.”

Complete Article HERE!

Defence minister apologises for Catholic priests who outed gay and lesbian soldiers

Johnny Mercer, Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, has now apologised for what happened

By Jimmy Nsubuga

A defence minister has said sorry after it emerged Catholic priests in the army broke the trust of gay personnel by outing them to bosses in the 1990s.

The chaplains broke confidentiality of confession when they revealed private conversations they had with vulnerable people, campaigners said.

The army personnel could have been fired and humiliated as a result of the breach of trust, they added.

Johnny Mercer, Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, has now apologised for what happened, the Times reported.

He said: ‘Our policy regarding LGB members in the military was unacceptable then, and as a defence minister, I personally apologise for those experiences.’

‘Pastoral encounters between service chaplains and personnel should be strictly confidential.’

Church of England chaplains working in the army were also accused of breaking confidences during the 90s.

On Thursday, Mr Mercer also apologised to a group of veterans for the harm caused by a ban on homosexuality.

The ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people serving in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force was repealed on January 12, 2000.

People suspected of being LGB in the armed forces at the time were subject to a dishonourable discharge.

A damning judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in September 1999 said the policy was a ‘grave interference’ in people’s private lives.

Mr Mercer added: ‘It was unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now, and as the minister for defence, people and veterans, I wanted to personally apologise to you today for those experiences.’

Gay and lesbian veterans who served under a ban on homosexuality have reflected on their experiences on the 20th anniversary of the policy’s end.

Emma Riley, 47, from West Sussex, served from 1990 to 1993 as a naval radio operator but was arrested and discharged for being a lesbian.

Ms Riley, who is a lesbian, said: ‘I thought the person I told was my friend and at the time I told them seemed to be very supportive and OK with it and the next morning I got woken up at 6am and told to “get up, get dressed and go downstairs, you’re under arrest”.’

Ms Riley had been reported to the Navy’s special investigation branch and had her belongings searched and confiscated, including a video of Julian Clary.

She was subjected to a two and a half month “relentless” investigation where officers tried to find other LGB people in the Navy.

Ms Riley was one of the handful of LGB ex-service people who brought her case against the Ministry of Defence to the European Court of Human Rights.

The MoD now has an LGBTQ+ group within its rank to support service personnel and the Royal British Legion boasts its own LGBTQ+ & Allies branch, which celebrates its first anniversary on Sunday.

Complete Article HERE!

EGR priest denies Communion to gay judge

Judge Sara Smolenski

by:

Judge Sara Smolenski, chief judge of the Kent County District Court, has been denied Communion at the church where she has been a parishioner for more than six decades because she is married to a woman.

It is a move that for many was the final straw in a pattern of behavior that has them calling for the removal of a priest — a priest who came to St. Stephen Catholic Church about three years ago.

In 1966, under the leadership of Rev. Msgr. Edward N. Alt, St. Stephen Catholic School became the first integrated Catholic school in Metro Grand Rapids and had a student body that was nearly 40 percent non-Catholic.

This tradition of inclusion and acceptance would be the essence of the school and the church for 50 years.

But now, some here say that is changing.

“I’ve been a member of St. Stephen’s Catholic Parish for 62 years, basically,” Smolenski said.

Smolenski who has been on the bench for nearly 30 years, comes from a family of prominent community members, including her father who was also a district court judge, and her brother, a state appeals court judge.

“I was baptized there, my parents were married there, every one of my nine siblings went to school (from) first through eighth grade. We buried my parents out of that school,” Smolenski said. “This is a church that is a part of who I am. This is a church who helped form my faith.”

News 8 featured Smolenski in March of 2016, when she became the first Kent County elected official to marry someone of the same sex.

But it was just last Saturday that Smolenski got a call from the parish priest, Father Scott Nolan.

“The way he said it was ‘because you’re married to Linda in the state of Michigan, you cannot accept communion,’ that’s how he said it,” Smolenski explained. “I try to be a good and faithful servant to our Lord Jesus Christ. My faith is a huge part of who I am, but it is the church that made that faith, the very church where he is taking a stance and saying ho-ho, not you.”

It was a devastating revelation for the lifelong Catholic who months earlier gave $7,000 to the parish building fund.

“Oh my gosh, I’m not going to get Jesus at the church I have devoted my life to,” Smolenski said, fighting back tears. “I thought of my mom and dad who devoted their whole life to raising us Catholic, spending all that money at the Catholic education.”

Smolenski was not the first person to be denied, according to a dozen people News 8 talked to Tuesday, including one same-sex couple who was denied the Eucharist during their child’s communion service.

“The public shunning — everything about it was offensive,” Smolenski said of the denial months before her own.

It is part of a pattern, according to Micki Benz, a 40-year member of the parish who is a part of a group of members who have decided to speak out.

They point to the words of Pope Francis who wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation.

Evangelii Gaudium, translates as “joy of the Gospel,” that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak and the church is not a toll house but a place for everyone.

“(Nolan) has eliminated teachers who are gay. He has made it clear that gay people are not welcome,” Benz said.

For a period of time, Nolan forbade non-Catholics from participating in church services, including choir and reading before the congregation, members say.

Parishioners met with Nolan and were hopeful that he was changing his ways, until last Saturday when the beloved judge was denied Communion.

Nolan talked to News 8 briefly Tuesday, promising he would speak on the issue but then did not call back or return messages.

There are those who believe Nolan is in the right, but they would not go on camera. Others with kids attending school would not go on camera due to fear of reprisal, but all say they love the church and want healing.

“I love the St. Stephen’s I knew. I don’t love the St. Stephen’s of now,” Smolenski said.

Some members say it would be better overall for the church to change pastors.

“We don’t see Father Scott changing; therefore we’ve come to the conclusion that it’d be better for him and us if there were a change in our pastors,” Benz said.

Some parishioners have drafted a letter to Bishop David Walkowiak, bishop of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, explaining their position and asking for a meeting — a request he has not responded to in the past.

>> Inside WOODTV.com: Letter to Bishop David Walkowiak.

“We really, really want a meeting with him. Everybody is prepared to be very respectful. We just want him to know what this is doing to one of his parishes,” Benz said.

News 8 reached out to the Diocese of Grand Rapids who would not address the issue of whether Nolan’s actions are supported by the bishop.

A spokesperson did issue this terse statement presumably about what happened with Judge Smolenski: “This is a spiritual matter between her and her pastor.”

Smolenski says it is time to bring this into the light.

“I want to help somebody out there who’s never even been born to make their life a little bit easier — by standing up and speaking the truth,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope compares politicians who rage against gays to Hitler

The Catholic Church leader also denounced a resurgence in anti-Semitism in Europe

By Philip Pullella

Pope Francis said on Friday politicians who rage against homosexuals, gypsies and Jews remind him of Hitler.

“It is not coincidental that at times there is a resurgence of symbols typical of Nazism,” Francis said in an address to participants of an international conference on criminal law.

“And I must confess to you that when I hear a speech (by) someone responsible for order or for a government, I think of speeches by Hitler in 1934, 1936,” he said, departing from his prepared address.

“With the persecution of Jews, gypsies, and people with homosexual tendencies, today these actions are typical (and) represent ‘par excellence’ a culture of waste and hate. That is what was done in those days and today it is happening again.”

During the 1933-45 Nazi regime in Germany, six million Jews were killed and homosexuals and gypsies were among those sent to extermination camps.

Pope Francis did not name any politicians or countries as the targets of his criticism.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro had a history of making homophobic, racist and sexist public remarks before he took office on Jan. 1. He told one interviewer he would rather have a dead son than a gay son.

In May, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah extended a moratorium on the death penalty to incoming legislation prohibiting gay sex, seeking to temper a global backlash led by celebrities such as George Clooney and Elton John.

The United Nations had warned Brunei it would be violating human rights by implementing Islamic laws that would allow death by stoning for adultery and homosexuality.

In recent weeks, Pope Francis has also denounced a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe.

On Wednesday, in improvised remarks at his general audience, he said: “Today the habit of persecuting Jews is beginning to be reborn. Brothers and sisters: this is neither human nor Christian; the Jews are our brothers and sisters and must not be persecuted! Understood?”

Last week, a Vatican cardinal said he was “disgusted” by anti-Semitic abuse directed at an 89-year-old Italian senator and Holocaust survivor, who was given police protection after receiving death threats.

In July, a European Union study said young Jewish Europeans experience more anti-Semitism than their parents, with a rise in abuse coming in emails, text messages and social media postings.

More than 80% of Jews of all ages said they felt anti-Semitism had increased on the Internet over the past five years and around 70% said they faced more hostility in public, the study found.

Complete Article HERE!

If there’s a cardinal sin to be made, count on the Catholic church

Its errors run from toting a saint’s relics around Scotland to an invitation to a reactionary priest

Bishop Joseph Toal, the bishop of Motherwell, blesses the relics of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux at their first stop at St Francis Xavier’s, Carfin, North Lanarkshire.

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A grim little vaudeville act is currently touring some of Scotland’s Catholic parishes, featuring the remains of Thérèse of Lisieux, a long-dead French nun. Thérèse died of tuberculosis at the age of 24 in 1897 and was canonised in 1925, becoming Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. By all accounts, this young woman developed an exemplary devotion to her faith and was the author of some beautiful (if slightly ripe) spiritual tracts. I’m not sure she deserved the fate of having some of her remains bumped in and out of cars and through the hills of South Lanarkshire and Paisley for the devoted titillation of the faithful.

These relics of Saint Thérèse are considered to be “first class”, this being the ultimate seal of Vatican authentication. To be accorded this distinction, they must be parts of the bodies of the saints, such as fragments of bone, skin, blood, hair or ash. Apparently, poor dead Thérèse (or parts thereof) has been getting ferried like this throughout the Catholic world since 1994. Is there no one to call a halt to this unedifying distortion of faith? Can we not let this blameless lassie rest in peace?

In secular society, we similarly raise up those who have performed feats of heroism that inspire us to make more of ourselves or to come to the aid of those in need. Behold the Scotland national football team. Our squad hasn’t qualified for a proper international tournament for 21 years and has long been tormented by the feats of better generations. The ghosts of great Scottish managers and players still haunt Hampden Park and our modern performers seem mesmerised by their shadows as they struggle to master the basics of the game. Thus, there were more people interested in attending Scotland’s rugby international against Georgia than our footballers’ encounter with Russia on Friday night. Perhaps we could seek permission from the families of Bill Shankly, Jim Baxter and Jimmy Johnstone to exhume their bodies in the national interest.

A lock of Shankly’s hair or Baxter’s left metatarsal or a bone fragment from Jinky’s hips, which he used to swivel and pirouette away from defenders, could be secured and placed in a casket. These could then be borne aloft through the neighbourhoods that reared these great footballers for the purposes of rekindling interest among these communities for our national sport. Perhaps, too, something of the sorcery interred in their bones might escape into the feet of a passing urchin and transport him to greatness in a dark blue jersey.

When the church’s spinmeisters urge its followers to bow down in medieval veneration to the bleached fragments of dead heroes you know that political machinations lie beneath. Our secular aristocracy relies on the fecundity of the royal family or the sacrifice of its soldiers in contrived theatres of war to avert our gaze from problems nearer to home. And the Roman Catholic church, still reeling from the global crisis of clerical sex abuse, is keen to encourage supernatural devotion like this for the purposes of redirecting scrutiny of its own grievous failings.

The success of the Reformation lay in freeing people from the spiritual slavery of Rome, where the bones of saints and counterfeit fragments of the Holy Cross had become an industry. The profits from this paid for the ruinous and brutal Crusades (and the beginning of Islamophobia).

The reformers offered a purer and less unequal route to heaven and the mercy of God, unencumbered by profiteering, exploitation and superstition. It wasn’t just a theological revolution, but a temporal one, which seemed to say that you didn’t need to wait until you entered paradise to experience equality and fairness.

Cardinal Raymond Burke: ‘a totem for rightwing Catholic conservatives’

While Saint Thérèse’s relics continue on their ghostly tour up and down the hills and glens, the visit to Scotland takes place of the American cardinal Raymond Burke, perhaps the most powerful Catholic churchman after Pope Francis. Burke, who has long viewed the current pope’s relaxed and compassionate views on human sexuality and the environment with deep suspicion, has become his greatest critic. He has thus become a totem for rightwing Catholic conservatives, a powerful and influential lobby, which is currently being wooed by Donald Trump and his chosen acolyte in this field, Steve Bannon. Perhaps it’s merely a coincidence that Thérèse’s posthumous visit to Scotland is occurring at the same time as Burke’s live one, but I hae ma doots.

Among the cardinal’s wide range of reactionary views is that female altar servers are a wretched sign of the increased “feminisation” of the church. “The introduction of girl servers led many boys to abandon altar service,” he has said. “Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural.” This is rubbish, of course. Where I grew up, if young female altar servers had been allowed there would have been a stampede among the boys to toil in the Lord’s vineyard alongside them. Burke also views any form of gay relationships as “evil” and has encouraged Catholics not to expose their children to close relatives who are actively gay. He’s had less to say about why the God he purports to serve and who does not make mistakes created, in His wisdom, gay people.

The familiars and acolytes attending this false prophet will include a shadowy assortment of arcane organisations that seek to preserve unfettered clerical control and power by means of exclusion and unholy inquisition. Spare a thought for us Catholics at this time. Not only are we seeking to deal with Brexit in the secular world but leave this shower of ecclesiastical Blimps in the spiritual one.

Complete Article HERE!