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Civil Rights Icon Bayard Rustin Pardoned For Anti-Gay Charges

Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr. in a car.

Over 50 years after he was arrested, Civil Rights icon and Martin Luther King Jr. confidant Bayard Rustin is being pardoned. The move is a decision made by California Governor Gavin Newsome, who called for a posthumous pardoning to start a new process for all convicted under anti-gay laws.

“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,” Newsome said in a statement. Now Newsom and his administration will attempt to right some of those wrongs, with a clemency initiative that will review the cases of those in the state convicted under such laws. 

As for Rustin, who helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington and helped to “urge King to lean deeper into the politics and practice of nonviolence,” his arrest came in 1953, when he was found having sex with two men in a parked car in Pasedena. The men were believed to be sex workers.

As a result of the arrest, Rustin served 50 days in jail and had to register as a sex offender. Though he died in 1987, that conviction is now overturned after pushes from the LGBTQ+ and black caucuses of California’s Legislature.

Consexual sex between same-sex adults was legalized in California in 1975.

In 2013, Rustin was posthumously honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama

Tags: Activism

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