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Bayard Rustin must be pardoned by Gov. Gavin Newsom legislators say

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin, left, is pictured with Martin Luther King, Jr. in this undated photo. Rustin was the architectural genius behind King’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Rustin also mentored King in nonviolent civil disobedience. Photo: Monroe Frederick/Courtesy of the Estate of Bayard Rustin.

Will Gov. Gavin Newsom posthumously pardon civil rights icon and leader Bayard Rustin?

Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblywoman Shirley N. Weber (D-San Diego), on behalf of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus and the Legislative Black Caucus, sent the governor a letter today requesting the pardon.

Rustin, a long time civil rights leader, was a mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr. about nonviolent civil disobedience and the architect of King’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, among other achievements in social justice.

Rustin also identified as gay at a time when homosexuality was not only still classified as a mental illness, but also illegal in many parts of the nation. Members of the LGBTQ also were persecuted under various morality codes.

Wiener and Weber sent Newsom their letter today because Rustin was arrested January 21, 1953, in Pasadena, and convicted of “vagrancy” for violating a morality offense that was often used to discriminate against and criminalize LGBTQ and black communities, but has been repealed.

Rustin was arrested for having consensual sex with two white men in a parked car. After the arrest, Rustin was convicted, served 50 days in jail, and was forced to register as a sex offender. Rustin died in 1987.

“Bayard Rustin’s criminal prosecution and registration as a sex offender are part of a long, ugly history of society’s criminalization of gay men and LGBTQ people generally,” Wiener said in a statement. “California owes Bayard Rustin — and the many other LGBTQ people who have been criminalized simply for being who we are — an apology.”

Weber added: “Without Bayard Rustin, the most memorable milestones of the Civil Rights Era would not have taken place. No Montgomery Bus Boycott. No Selma. No March on Washington.”

On Tuesday, Newsom released a statement.

“History is clear. In California and across the country, sodomy laws were used as legal tools of oppression. They were used to stigmatize and punish LGBTQ individuals and communities and warn others what harm could await them for living authentically,” Newsom said.

“I thank those who are advocating for Mr. Bayard Rustin’s pardon,” he said. “I will be closely considering their request and the corresponding case.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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