Bayard Rustin was a confidant to Martin Luther King Jr., an organizer in the fight to end racial discrimination, a civil rights leader, an icon. But Rustin was also a gay man during a time when being Black was enough of a strike for one person to bear. 

In 1987 when Rustin died at 75, there was an unjustified blemish against his otherwise highly-regarded name. The mark came in 1953 when he received a criminal conviction for having sex with two men in a parked car in Pasadena. At the time he was required to serve 50 days in a Los Angeles jail and register as a sex offender. As reported by NBC News, on Tuesday, California Gov. Gavin Newson pardoned the longtime freedom fighter, posthumously overturning a 60+-year-old criminal conviction.

Bayard Rustin speaks in Montgomery, Alabama
At the end of the Selma to Montgomery March, Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin (1912 – 1987) speaks to the assembled marchers and spectators in front of the Alabama State Capitol, Montgomery, Alabama, March 25, 1965. At left (in v-neck sweater) is Bernard Lee (1935 – 1991) of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and behind him is Ralph Abernathy (1926 – 1990) reviewing his notes. The pulpit is from the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and it is the one that Martin Luther King Jr preached his sermons when he was pastor between 1954 to 1960. (Photo by Charles Shaw/Getty Images)

“In California and across the country, many laws have been used as legal tools of oppression, and to stigmatize and punish LGBTQ people and communities and warn others what harm could await them for living authentically,” Newsom said in a statement.

He also announced a larger clemency initiative that allows people who have received similar judgments for openly living their truth, an opportunity to clear their name. He has asked Californians to request clemency for people who they believe fit similar criteria. 

“I thank those who advocated for Bayard Rustin’s pardon, and I want to encourage others in similar situations to seek a pardon to right this egregious wrong,” Newsom wrote.

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