Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin was posthumously granted clemency nearly 70 years after being arrested and imprisoned on anti-LGBTQ+ charges.

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In US news and current events today, this civil rights leader was posthumously pardoned nearly 70 years after being arrested on anti-gay charges.

CA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced a new initiative on Feb 5, 2020 to clear individuals convicted on charges related to same-sex encounters . The first person to be pardoned was Bayard Rustin, an organizer who worked as an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Rustin was arrested in Pasadena, CA in 1953 after he was found in the backseat of a car with two men. He was ultimately convicted on a misdemeanor lewd vagrancy charge and served 50 days in jail. Rustin said in a radio interview in the mid-‘80s that MLK had seriously reconsidered working with him after the arrest, out of concern it would hinder the momentum of the Civil Rights Movement, but Rustin continued to be a key figure, working for the cause behind the scenes. He organized the 1963 March on Washington, the stage of MLK’s most iconic speech.

Although CA law forbidding sex between same-sex adults was repealed in 1975, the conviction remained on Rustin’s record until his death in 1987. 33 years later, CA’s LGBTQ+ and Black Caucuses lobbied for Rustin’s clemency.

Rustin is credited with introducing MLK to Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings of non-violent resistance. Throughout his life, Rustin worked to support labor unions and became a leader among American Social Democrats. Before the pivotal March on Washington, Rustin assisted MLK in the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, AL. He was one of the first to take part in the Freedom Rides of 1961, when hundreds of civil rights activists rode interstate buses into areas with segregation laws, drawing international attention to their cause.

President Barack Obama honored Rustin posthumously with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.CA Assemblywoman Shirley Weber said that without Rustin, there would have been no Selma.

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