A group of pastors and political figures gathered near Chicago yesterday to paint a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a homophobe, um, I mean, a “man of God and a leader who fought for the civil rights of African Americans. At the same time, they made it clear that King was not a champion for gay rights.
To properly remember King, according to David E. Smith, executive director of Illinois Family Institute, who attended the luncheon, people must remember that “Martin Luther King was first a minister of God.” As a minister, King wouldn’t have supported immorality, he asserted.
Their assertion, of course, flies in the face of a lot of history—but when has the religious right let the facts get in the way of a good anti-gay rant?
Historical fact: King’s close associate was an openly gay man. Bayard Rustin braved the rampant homophobia (and criminalization of homosexuality) of his day and was trusted by King to help organize the Civil Rights Movement. If King would not have supported what Smith calls “immorality” then he would never have let Rustin play such a prominent role. In fact, King did not support “immorality.” He supported his friend, Bayard, a human being who deserved dignity and civil rights.
Historical fact: King’s wife, Coretta Scott King—the woman who knew King best—spoke throughout the years in support of the gay and lesbian community and was confident that her husband would have supported the LGBT community’s fight for civil rights.
Mrs. King said in 1998:
I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice… But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’… I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.
She also spoke in favor of marriage equality for gays and lesbians in 2004.
If anyone knew where King stood on the rights of gays and lesbians, it would be Rustin and King’s wife. I have no doubt that, were he alive, King would be at the forefront of the struggle for LGBT equality because that injustice does, indeed, threaten justice everywhere. More importantly, I think King would support LGBT civil rights because he was the type of minister who believed that God’s realm is inclusive, not exclusive, and that justice must include every outcast for it to truly be justice.