Bayard Rustin at the intersections of minority communities
Published Thursday, 26-Aug-2010 in issue 1183
There are no books which have influenced my perspective on civil rights more than Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writing of Bayard Rustin. Bayard Rustin is credited with introducing Martin Luther King Jr. to the strategies of nonviolence, and he was the main organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.
But importantly for those in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community, Bayard Rustin was a civil rights activist at the intersection of GLBT and black; he was a gay, African-American, civil rights activist. He’s a man who was at the intersections of two civil rights movements.
From Montgomery to Stonewall has a paragraph in it that changed me forever. It opened my eyes to the concept that GLBT, and transgender-specific activism, is more than just about individual court rulings and pieces of legislation. GLBT activists seek to change the way we perceive ourselves, and change the way the world perceives us. The text of the paragraph is as follows:
There are four burdens, which gays, along with every other despised group, whether it’s blacks follow slavery and reconstruction, or Jews fearful of Germany, must address. The first is recognize one must overcome fear. The second is overcoming self-hate. The third is overcoming self-denial. The fourth is more political. It is to recognize that the job of the gay community is not to deal with extremists who would castigate 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 manifest that hate. That’s our job today: to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay sentiment.
There are no books which have influenced my perspective on civil rights more than Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writing of Bayard Rustin.
As a member of the broad GLBT community, I think about how well (or not so well) we’ve been at overcoming our fears, our self-hate (our internalized homophobia and/or internalized transphobia), and overcome our self-denial, that is, overcome the feeling that we don’t deserve freedom, equality, and justice.
My own sub community, the transgender sub community, is the tiniest sub community in the broader GLBT community. Honestly, we’re not even very visible within the GLBT community. We, as a sub community, have not overcome our fears, have not overcome our internalized transphobia, and we haven’t fully embraced the idea that we deserve freedom, equality, and justice.
And yet, as an individual, I’ve worked, and continue to work to overcome my fears, overcome my internalized transphobia, and embrace the idea that my peers and I deserve equal rights. Beyond that, I understand that to the list of African-Americans and Jews in Germany, I can add transgender Americans. Also, I can add this to Bayard Rustin’s thought on what our job as a broader GLBT community has with regards to our own civil rights:
That’s our job today: to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest antigay and antitransgender sentiment.
It’s been awhile since I read the Time on Two Crosses. I believe it’s well past time I reread the book.