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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 7, 2020 - Volume 48 Issue 06
California governor pardons Bayard Rustin
Section One
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California governor pardons Bayard Rustin

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

California Gov. Gavin Newsom posthumously pardoned Gay civil rights icon Bayard Rustin on February 5.

Rustin, who died in 1987, had been arrested in Pasadena in 1953 for having sex with two other men in a parked car. He served 50 days in jail and had to register as a sex offender.

Rustin is best known as the protégé of the African American labor and civil rights leader A. Phillip Randolph and as an associate of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rustin was the lead organizer for the 1963 March on Washington, at which King delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. He also helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which King headed, and the famous Freedom Rides through the South.

Both Randolph and King were aware that Rustin was Gay, but he lived in a period of US history when it was not possible to be both out and politically active. When King's enemies began to leak false rumors that King and Rustin were lovers, Rustin was forced to leave the SCLC.

Although as a young man Rustin had been a Communist, he eventually drifted to the right in his older age and spoke against the anti-Vietnam war movement.

Newsom pardoned Rustin at the request of California's legislature.

"In California and across the country, many laws have been used as legal tools of oppression, and to stigmatize and punish LGBTQ people and communities and warn others what harm could await them for living authentically," Newsom said in a statement.

He thanked those who pushed for Rustin's pardon and encouraged others in similar circumstances "to seek a pardon to right this egregious wrong."

Newsom also issued an executive order creating what he called a "new clemency initiative" to identify others who had been convicted of same-sex encounters and enable them to apply for pardons. He encouraged Californians to apply for clemency for people they believe meet that criteria, with details and updates available at www.gov.ca.gov/clemency.

According to the Associated Press, Newsom's office could not say if other states have taken similar steps.

As mayor of San Francisco in 2004, Newsom ordered city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Courts overturned his order, but same-sex marriage briefly became legal in California in 2008.

From November 2008 through June 2013, Proposition 8 foreclosed the possibility of marriage equality, but same-sex marriages resumed after the Supreme Court decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry struck down Prop 8.

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