The LGBTQ+ community stands for many things, and they are expanding more every day. However, when the movement was created, it held a very simple idea which today stands at its center: equality.
One of the most influential proponents of this concept is none other than Martin Luther King, Jr (MLK), whose words inspired generations of activists fighting for a more just world. While he did not directly work on LGBTQ+ issues, MLK and some of his most important colleagues hold a very important role in the history of the LGBTQ+ community. Here are the important concepts and people from MLK’s life that laid the roots for the LGBTQ+ community as we know it today:
The Definition of Equality
In the famous 1963 March on Washington, MLK expressed his definition of equality: “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” he said.
The implicit meaning of this is that discriminating a person based on factors they cannot change is unacceptable. Like the color of our skin, these factors include our sexual orientation and gender identity. They cannot be chosen or altered based on our decisions. They are part of who we are, and we should be proud of them. That is the message which has defined the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and one that is at the core of Pride Palace. We can thank MLK for his words.
One aspect about MLK that is not known as much as his speeches is the people he worked with, two of which were key figures in the movement for gay rights. On his day, we should celebrate them too.
The main organizer of the March on Washington was Bayard Rustin, a close ally to MLK. One of the earliest advocates for civil rights, Rustin pioneered Freedom Rights and refused to give up his seat in a segregated bus more than a decade before Rosa Parks did. He was also gay, and as a consequence, hidden by other civil rights leaders. Rustin was not only gay, but he was an out and proud gay man, which was extremely dangerous at the time. Those against the Civil Rights Movement went after Rustin for his sexual orientation, trying to use it to stop events such as the March on Washington. For this, he was time and again sidelined from the very movement he helped found.
“Sex must be sublimated if I am to live in this world longer,” Rustin wrote after being arrested for soliciting. In the later part of his life, Rustin dedicated himself to founding the nascent gay-rights movement, applying the same principles he fought for throughout his entire life.
“We cannot fight for the rights of gays unless we are ready to fight for a new mood in the United States. Unless we are ready to fight for a radicalization of this society,” he said a year before he died in a speech.
Another ally of the LGBTQ+ community in MLK’s life was his wife, Coretta Scott King. Throughout her career, she spoke strongly about how racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and all forms of hate, are linked together.
“[They all] seek to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity, and their personhood,” she said. Coretta may not be as well known as MLK but we are still very thankful for her work and efforts. The LGBTQ+ community would not be what it is today without every single person who helped advocate for human rights, whether it be a racial or sexual orientation issue.
On MLK day, it is essential we recognize all of the past work of leaders that has led to more equality today. Thank you to MLK and thank you to all other equality advocates across the world! We will continue to work towards fulfilling your dreams and ensuring equality for all.
By David Brothers and Paloma Pinto