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While he was traveling through Tennessee, Bayard Rustin sat in the front of a public bus.
A black man living in the 1930s, Rustin knew segregation on the bus systems forbade him to do so.
He refused to move when driver told him to relocate. As the police dragged him from his seat, he pointed to a white child sitting near him and cried out, “If I move this child will not know the injustice that is taking place here!”
Rustin, one of the civil rights movement’s most controversial leaders, worked with the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and A. Phillip Randolph. However, Rustin is often ignored for his contributions because he was homosexual.
To discuss the “taboo” topic of homophobia in diverse communities, the multicultural Greek sorority Sigma Lambda Gamma hosted the movie “Brother Outsider” on Thursday night for a small group of students. The PBS documentary shed light on Rustin’s life and work as a civil rights leader.
Jolene Santos, a junior economics major and the vice president of academics for Sigma Lambda Gamma, said she felt it was important to have this discussion in diverse communities.
“It’s kind of a taboo subject in a lot of groups,” she said. “Especially for people in diverse communities who have such a negative view of homosexuality. But people who understand struggle should sympathize with gay and lesbian rights.”
Santos said she felt sad that Rustin did not receive the recognition he deserved during his lifetime.
“He really didn’t get any mainstream recognition,” Santos said. “Everyone knows Martin Luther King Jr., or Randolph, but if you were to pull people off the street and ask them if they knew who (Rustin) was, they wouldn’t say yes.”
Janelle Posey, a senior majoring in MCD biology and minoring in ethnic studies, said the sorority first considered hosting a panel to talk about homophobia in diverse communities.
However, Posey said the Queer People of Color student group and the GLBT resources suggested the documentary to them, and group members thought it would be better to show a film.
The movie highlights Rustin’s life and his contributions to the civil rights movement. Born in 1912, Rustin was raised in a Quaker home and was a strong advocate for nonviolent resistance. He worked with different organizations like the Federation for Reconciliation and the Congress of Racial Inequality to help advocate pacifist movements. In 1963, he was one of the organizers for the March on Washington, where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Despite his success, Rustin was often discriminated against for his sexuality.
Reverend A.J. Muste, who headed the FOR, believed Rustin’s homosexuality was hindering his effectiveness in the civil rights movement and hurt the FOR. In 1953, Rustin was arrested as a suspected sexual pervert and subsequently spent 60 days in jail. He was removed from the FOR and stepped down from his job as King’s adviser.
Later in his life, Rustin became an advocate for gay and lesbian rights. A year before his 1987 death, Rustin said, “The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community- it’s the gay community because it is the community which is most easily mistreated.”
The movie night was part of a series of events held by Sigma Lambda Gamma and its brother fraternity, Sigma Lambda Beta. Posey said Sigma Lambda Beta held their events earlier in April.
On Monday, Sigma Lambda Gamma hosted author and public speaker Victor Villasenor. He wrote “Burro Genius,” “Rain of Gold” and several other books.
Posey said Villasenor was very motivational.
“He’s Native American and Mexican, so we learned about his culture and how it got him through school, and helped him start loving who he is,” Posey said.
Sigma Lambda Gamma will also be hosting their Unity Day for the other chapters from Colorado and Wyoming on Saturday.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Marcy Franklin at Marcy.email@example.com.