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Would Martin Luther King Jr. have supported the gay rights movement?

Posted by David Zimmerman  January 20, 2013 08:22 AM

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As we ready ourselves to celebrate what would have been Rev. Martin Luther King’s 84th birthday an article in Huffington Post by local Rev. Irene Monroe asks the question ‘Would King, a champion of civil rights, have been a vocal supporter of equal rights for the lgbt community?’

Writes Monroe:

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day 2013, we no longer have to hold King up to a godlike standard. All the hagiographies written about King after his assassination have come under scrutiny as we have come to better understand all of him: his greatness and his flaws and human foibles. As I comb through numerous books and essays, learning more about King's philandering, his sexist attitude toward women at home and in the movement, and his tenuous relationship with the openly gay Bayard Rustin, I am wondering whether King really would be a public advocate for LGBTQ rights.

Monroe goes on to report that King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, while speaking to Lambda Legal, an organization of lawyers supporting lgbt rights, stated they she felt Dr. King would have been a supporter of the cause. "I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King's dream to make room at the table of brother and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people," said Scott King.

Monroe, however, appears less convinced and goes on to offer up recent examples via other members of Dr. King’s family:

King's youngest and only living daughter, Rev. Bernice King, who has been rumored for years to be a lesbian, as well as his niece, Alveda King, have historically thought otherwise. In 2004 the cousins, along with thousands of protesters, participated in a march against same-sex marriage in Atlanta. In January 2005 Newsweek asked Alveda, who has aligned herself with the religious right and frequently wields her family name and her voice against LGBTQ rights, whether Martin Luther King would be a champion of LGBTQ rights. "No, he would champion the word of God," she replied. "If he would have championed gay rights today, he would have done it while he was here. There was ample opportunity for him to champion gay rights during his lifetime, and he did not do so." She added, "My cousin, the Rev. Bernice King, has said that she knows in her sanctified soul that her father did not take a bullet for same-sex marriage."

And finally there is this, from Bayard Rustin, whom many considered to be Dr. King’s chief strategist and most trusted advisor:

Martin Luther King, with whom I worked very closely, became very distressed when a number of the ministers working for him wanted him to dismiss me from his staff because of my homosexuality. Martin set up a committee to discover what he should do. They said that, despite the fact that I had contributed tremendously to the organization ... they thought that I should separate myself from Dr. King. This was the time when [Rev. Adam Clayton] Powell threatened to expose my so-called homosexual relationship with Dr. King.
(In an effort to marginalize Rustin, several people conjured up rumors of a homosexual relationship between Rustin and King)

Rustin offered to resign and King did not reject the offer. "Basically [King] said I can't take on two queers at one time," according to one of Rustin's associates.

Monroe concludes by recalling a letter she wrote to an associate on the topic, "I agree that you have to wonder whether King would support LGBTQ rights today, even if he felt he couldn't in the 60s. You'd like to think he would given his courageous stands otherwise. I now believe that not only would King not have supported LGBTQ rights but his relevance on social issues would have continued to wane considerably had he survived.”

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author: Boston Spirit Magazine’s daily blog brings you all of the information you need on New England’s LGBT community. In addition to highlighting local and national LGBT news, we will also highlight local leaders from the worlds of business, politics, fashion and entertainment and keep you up-to-date on all the latest events and parties, hot spots for travel, shopping, dining, and more!
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