Bayard Rustin, LGBT and Civil Rights Activist, Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is celebrating the posthumous award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Bayard Rustin, an openly gay man who was a leader in the civil rights movement, chief organizer of the March on Washington 50 years ago, and LGBT activist.

“We are delighted that Bayard Rustin is receiving one of our nation’s most prestigious honors,” said Rea Carey. “As an openly gay man, he inspired millions through his leadership and courage at a time when being openly gay would likely lead to persecution, arrest, violence and even death. This award will help to inspire millions more people in the quest for freedom, justice and equality.”

A native of West Chester, Penn., Rustin helped initiate a number of important milestones in the fight for civil rights including the 1947 Freedom Ride to challenge racial segregation. Rustin practiced non-violent protest and resistance. An openly gay man, Rustin was arrested at a time when homosexuality was criminalized in many parts of the United States.

The Award comes as organizers prepare to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington with another rally and march on August 24, Washington, DC. The day starts at 8 am with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, followed by a march to the King Memorial. The theme is “Realize The Dream.”

“It’s been 50 years since the March on Washington and it’s clear that the fight for jobs, equality and justice isn’t over for people of color, for LGBT people and for LGBT people of color. Hard fought rights can be eroded and even deleted — as we have seen recently with the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. That’s why we are marching again, August 24, like Bayard did — and many other LGBT people with him back then — to realize the as yet unfulfilled dream,” Carey said.