Civil rights hero Bayard Rustin once said, “God does not require us to achieve … the good tasks that humanity must pursue. What God requires of us is that we not stop trying.”
Known as a man with purpose and heart, Rustin, who was an openly gay black man born in the early 1900s, knew about segregation, injustice and discrimination early on. He could easily have stopped trying.
Instead, he became one of the first voices of outrage and is recognized as the key organizer of the first Freedom Rides and the 1963 March on Washington. Later in life it was clear he saw his fight against homophobia as inseparable from his fight against racism. As the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on two marriage equality cases this week — Hollingsworth v. Perry, which challenges California’s Proposition 8, and US v. Windsor, which challenges Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — we would do well to remember the example of Bayard Rustin.
The myth that African Americans and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are two separate — even hostile — communities has been a recurring narrative in recent years, especially from religious conservatives. In 2011, for example, documents from the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage revealed its plan to “drive a wedge” between the LGBT movement and communities of color. Leaders like Bayard Rustin remind us that our movements have overlapped all along, especially through LGBT people of color.