Some Words From Bayard Rustin

The words of African-American, Queer Civil Rights Leader, Bayard Rustin spoken in 1986, still speak to us today.

“Indeed, if you want to know whether today people believe in democracy, if you want to know whether they are true democrats, if you want to know whether they are human rights activists, the question to ask is, ‘What about gay people?’ Because that is now the litmus paper by which this democracy is to be judged.”

“There are four burdens, which gays, along with every other despised group, whether it is blacks following slavery and reconstruction, or Jews fearful of Germany, must address.
The first is to recognize that one must overcome fear.
The second is overcoming self-hate.
The third is overcoming self-denial.
The fourth burden is more political. It is to recognize that the job of the gay community is not to deal with extremist who would castrate us or put us on an island and drop an H-bomb on us.

The fact of the matter is that there is a small percentage of people in America who understand the true nature of the homosexual community. There is another small percentage who will never understand us. Our job is not to get those people who dislike us to love us. Nor was our aim in the civil rights movement to get prejudiced white people to love us. Our aim was to try to create the kind of America, legislatively, morally, and psychologically, such that even though some whites continued to hate us, they could not openly mainifest that hate. That’s our job today: to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay sentiment.”

From Time on Two Crosses–The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin edited by Devon W. Carbado & Donald Weise

This post has 8 Comments

  1. Joe G. on August 16, 2005 at 8:54 pm

    Great quote. Thanks for this. He had a way of clarifying where the focus should be.

  2. Liz Opp on August 17, 2005 at 1:49 am

    I know your blog is not strictly Quaker, but for Quaker readers: you forgot to mention that Bayard Rustin was Quaker. smile

    Liz, The Good Raised Up

  3. Clint from GCN on August 17, 2005 at 2:02 am

    A very pro-political view from the normally not-so-political Quaker. (I guess I think of the Quaker cause as social, not political, if that makes sense.) Interesting.

    Plus, how do you deal with his call to abandon self-denial within a Christian context? It seems Christ calls us to self-denial, but I’m not really sure what that looks like.


  4. Rich in Brooklyn on August 17, 2005 at 1:27 pm

    While it may be true, depending on your definition of “political”, that Quakerism as such is “non-political”, it was certainly never true that Friend Bayard Rustin was non-political. If I am not mistaken, he was the author of a widely-read (and widely-debated) article called “From Protest to Politics” that called for a shift of the civil rights movement from the streets to the voting booth sometime in the 1960’s.

    Although I haven’t studied his ideas on this in any detail, I don’t see any contradiction between Bayard’s “call to abandon self-denial” and Christian faith. I think the “self-denial” he was talking about and opposing is the denial of the truth about oneself, including the truth that one is loved by God and worthy of love and respect from fellow-humans. The self-denial that Christianity preaches is a different animal: a denial of the self’s supposed right to lift itself up over others and to pursue its own will without regard for God or neighbor.
    – – Rich Accetta-Evans (Brooklyn Quaker.

  5. Willie Hewes on August 17, 2005 at 3:06 pm

    Yes, exactly, very true. Thanks for the quote Peterson. 🙂

  6. Anonymous on August 17, 2005 at 11:29 pm

    I look forward to the day when gay and nongay Quakers can join in a full appreciation of American civil liberties as established by four gay Quakers: Susan B. Anthony, Walt Whitman, Alice Paul, and Bayard Rustin.

    — Mitchell Santine Gould

  7. Jennifer on August 18, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    Commenting here from the World Gathering. This morning there was an announcement in the WGYF Daily Bullitin about a meeting this afternoon at 4:30, so the queer population does exist, and contrary to the reply you got from Aiden McCartney (Ireland YM) about doing one of your performances here, you would fit right in. I have observed that many Quakers here are really accepting of others and homosexuality has been brought up in several conversations that I have been in since getting here Tuesday. There is even a gay guy here from Utah.

  8. Clint from GCN on August 18, 2005 at 9:01 pm

    To follow up Richard in Brooklyn’s comment:

    I have had Christians make the argument (an argument I vehemently oppose) that human beings have no rights at all–that we are merely sinners in the hands of an angry God, as it were. Thus, they conclude that all fights for civil rights are wrong, because they are a fight for rights, period, they they do not metaphysically possess.

    So, yeah–that kind of thinking is out there.


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