As a queer Black woman, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holds profound significance for me as it serves as a reminder of the power of unity and the relentless pursuit of social justice and equity. On this day, I not only reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but also pay homage to the often underrecognized contributions of Bayard Rustin, a courageous Black Queer leader who played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement.
Rustin's words, "We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers," resonate deeply with the challenges we face today. In this critical moment, all of our communities must stand as disruptors against those who seek to strip us of our dignity. Rustin also stated, "The barometer for judging the character of people in regards to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, lesbian." His words highlight the urgency of the times we live in, where the future of social progress directly relate to the ways in which individuals will align themselves with this issue.
In a time where the rights of the queer community are under threat, there is a concerted effort to push us towards inequality and exclusion, rather than fostering equity and inclusion. As a community, now is the moment to persistently press forward, ensuring our communities not only survive but thrive, while reserving judgment for those who obstruct progress.
Bayard Rustin's unapologetic existence as a queer Black man and his commitment to the pursuit of justice inspire me to embrace my identity without hesitation and to continuously advocate for the rights of our community. As we commemorate the dream envisioned by MLK, let’s remember those who stood beside him but were often forgotten - and let's celebrate the joy within our own queer community and stand united against injustice.
Learn more about Rustin's life and legacy at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (nmaahc.si.edu/bayard-rustin).
Photo: Bayard Rustin, January 1, 1965. Taken by Stanley Wolfson of the World Telegram & Sun. Creative Commons courtesy of the Library of Congress.