Rustin to Joseph Beam

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Rustin to Joseph Beam The writer Joseph Beam had asked Rustin to contribute to a book that would eventually be published as In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology. Rustin’s reply offers a rare glimpse into his understanding of the relationship between his activism and his sexual orientation. April 21, 1986 Dear Mr. Beam: . . . After much thought I have decided that I must decline your invitation to contribute to your collection of oral histories of black gay men. I feel it only fair, however, to give you my reasons for doing so. My activism did not spring from my being gay, or for that matter, from my being black. Rather it is rooted, fundamentally, in my Quaker upbringing and the values that were instilled in me by my grandparents who reared me. Those values are based on the concept of a single human family and the belief that all members of that family are equal. Adhering to those values has meant making a stand against injustice, to the best of my ability, whenever and wherever it occurs. The racial injustice that was present in this country during my youth was a challenge to my belief in the oneness of the human family. It demanded my involvement in the struggle to achieve interracial democracy, but it is very likely that I would have been involved had I been a white person with the same philosophy. Needless to say, I worked side-by-side with many white people who held these same values, some of whom gave as much, if not more, to the struggle than myself. I was not involved in the struggle for gay rights as a youth. To the best of my knowledge, there was no organized gay liberation movement. I did not “come out of the closet” voluntarily—circumstances forced me out. While I have no problem with being publicly identified as homosexual, it would be dishonest of me to present myself as one who was in the forefront of the struggle for gay rights. The credit for that belongs to others. They are the ones who should be in your book. While I support full equality, under law, for homosexuals, I fundamen-

tally consider sexual orientation to be a private matter. As such, it has not been a factor which has greatly influenced my role as an activist. Wishing you success with your book, I remain, Sincerely yours, Bayard Rustin

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