Dunreith co-facilitated a workshop about homophobia today for Facing History.
Unfortunately, while America has made fitful if incomplete progress on issues of race, in many circles the hatred of gays, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning folks is still acceptable.
As a former middle and high school teacher and adviser to a Gay/Straight Alliance at Longmeadow High School, I can attest that young people in these categories have their dignity, self-esteem and even physical safety assaulted, sometimes on a hourly basis.
And, even more unfortunately, many times peers, and even other adults, stand by and do nothing.
This silence gives comfort to the abuser and makes the victim feel even more alone.
This is the context in which Dunreith and her colleague Denise Gelb offered the workshop.
One of Dunreith’s sessions focused on Bayard Rustin.
Rustin’s name has become more recognized in recent years, but the architect of the March on Washington still generally is not nearly as well-known as other civil rights luminaries like Dr. King, Rosa Parks, John Lewis or other people from that era.
It’s a shame, because Rustin’s brilliance deserves to be recognized, while the pain he experienced from inside and outside the movement also merits scrutiny.
Dunreith drew on a number of resources for her session, which combined aspects of Rustin’s biography-his youth in West Chester, Pennsylvania, his fearlessness about issues of race, his early commitment to nonviolence and serving time in federal prison for being a conscientious objects are just some of his foundational experiences-with information about his being ostracized because of his being gay.
After being arrested in Pasadena in the early 50s on a “morals” charge, he decided to suppress his sexual desires. One of the biggest betrayals of his life came when Dr. King acceded to his resignation after Adam Clayton Powell threatened to charge that King and Rustin were gay lovers.
After a period of exile, Rustin reconnected with King and other civil rights leaders in time to pull off the March on Washington, and to see the civil rights establishment back him when Strom Thurmond started attacking him.
While many see the March as the high point of Rustin’s public life, he continued to push for nonviolent change, receiving heat starting in the mid-60s for backing the Democratic rather than the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic convention in Atlantic City. He later was accused of being out of touch as the doctrine of Black Power ascended later in the decade.
In addition to working on issues of nuclear disarmament, Rustin did finally find committed and long-term love toward the end of his life.
Dunreith weighed looked at two videos, Out of the Past, which has a self-contained section about Rustin, and Brother Outsider, which is a full length documentary feature about the civil rights strategist.
University of Illinois-Chicago and gay studies pioneer John D’Emilio has written an authoritative biography of Rustin, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin. I also read this week a slender book by Rustin about the movement’s past and future directions.
Whatever resource you choose, please take the time to learn more about this remarkable man, who was born to a teenage mother, raised by his Quaker grandparents and worked tirelessly to help the nation be truer to its word.