A gay civil rights leader has been posthumously pardoned by California’s governor for a 1953 conviction that stemmed from the anti-LGBTQ laws on the books at the time.
Bayard Rustin was a close ally of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and was instrumental in organizing some of the country’s most important civil rights actions, including the Montgomery bus boycott and the March on Washington in 1963.
But in 1953, Rustin was arrested after he was caught having sex in a car in Pasadena, a crime that landed him in L.A. County jail for 50 days and forced him to register as a sex offender. Though Rustin died in 1987, Gov. Gavin Newsom is calling not just for rehabilitation of Rustin’s image, but also announced the creation of a new process that would pardon others convicted under similarly cruel 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,” Newsom said in a statement. “I thank those who advocated for Bayard Rustin’s pardon, and I want to encourage others in similar situations to seek a pardon to right this egregious wrong.”
According to the New York Times, Newsom pardoned Rustin at the urging of Scott Wiener, who leads the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, and Shirley Weber, the Assembly member who heads the California Legislative Black Caucus.
“He deserves to be remembered as one of the towering figures in the cause of justice,” Weber said. “A pardon will ensure his legacy and his place in history unsullied by this incident.”
Under Newsom’s executive order, a new initiative will identify those who might be eligible for pardons and expedite the process.