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A decade beforeRosa Parks’ arrestfor refusing togive up her seaton a Montgomery,Alabama bus, policedragged BayardRusn o a bus inTennessee for thesame act of protest.When pressed aboutwhy he was resisngsegregaon, Rusngestured to a youngwhite boy seated atthe front of the bus.“If I sit in the back,”Rusn said, “I amdepriving that childof the knowledgethat there is injuscehere, which I believeis his right to know.”Bayard Rusn, an oen unsung heroof the civil rights movement, spenthis enre life exposing injusce inour naon. Even before he servedas lead organizer of the 1963 Marchon Washington where Dr. MarnLuther King, Jr. declared his dream,Rusn was labeled a Communist anda radical by the government. Whenhe traveled to the segregated Southduring the rst-ever Freedom Rides,he experienced a barrage of racialslurs and violence.But in America, in the 1950s and 60s,no label stuck to Bayard Rusn quitelike “homosexual.” As an openly gayman, Rusn was aacked by everyone- Congressmen and acvists, blackand white - simply for living openly.Yet, at a me when few others would,Rusn proudly wore that label.To Bayard Rusn, ghng for hisequality as a black man, while leavinghis identy as a gay man unspoken,would have been an unthinkablebetrayal. It was his rm belief thatsilence about either identy meant heaccepted the system of discriminaonthat allowed hatred about both topersist.Long before it was easy or safe,Rusn was movated to live openly.He could have hidden the fact thathe was gay. When confronted aboutit, he could have lied - that’s whateveryone did in those days. ButBayard Rusn was exceponal. Helived openly because to do otherwisewould be a missed opportunity inexposing the injusce and intolerancethat he, along with other membersof the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual,and Transgender communiesexperienced.Despite a lifeme lived in serviceto jusce and nonviolence, Rusn’slegacy was marginalized by hissexuality. His 1987New York Timesobituary demonstrated the evasivelanguage about LGBT people thatwas all too common in the media justa few short years ago. The obituaryskirted the topic of his being gayand referred to his longme partnerby euphemism only. Even today, hisname is not nearly as well known asthe other greats of the Civil Rightsmovement.As America connues to celebrateBlack History Month and as we visitthe state of equality and juscein America during this historicanniversary year for the ght forequality,we should not forget trailblazers likeRusn. Like Rusn’s, let us upli thestories of LGBT African-Americanswho felt and sll feel the burdensof discriminaon -- those whosevery lives illustrate the insistent factthat the ght to treat all peopleequally is both this country’s greatestaccomplishment and its greatestunnished obligaon.Today, the Naonal Associaonfor the Advancement of ColoredPeople, the naon’s oldest civil rightsorganizaon, and the Human RightsCampaign, the naon’s largest LGBTcivil rights organizaon, are proud towork together toward equality. Andwe’re proud that President BarackObama used his second inauguraladdress to link the Civil Rightsmovement and the LGBT Equalitymovement just last month. But longbefore a president like Barack Obamawas even possible, Bayard Rusnwas preaching an equal future. Weshouldn’t forget his sacrice, and thegreatest tribute to his legacy would beto nish his work.
---------------------------------Benjamin Todd Jealous is president/ CEO of the NAACP and Chad Grin is president of the HumanRights Council. This arcle - theseventh of a 20-part series - iswrien in commemoraon of the50th Anniversary of the Lawyers’ Commiee for Civil Rights Under Law. The Lawyers’ Commiee is anonparsan, nonprot organizaon, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to enlist the private bar’s leadership and resourcesin combang racial discriminaon and the resulng inequality of opportunity - work that connues to be vital today. For more informaon, pleasevisit www.lawyerscommiee.org.
The State of Equality and Justice in America:
“Bayard Rustin: An Unsung Hero for Equality”
BEN JEALOUSchad griffin