Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin in 1970 - AP file
Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin in 1970 - AP file

California’s governor announced Wednesday that he is posthumously pardoning a gay civil rights leader while creating a new pardon process for others convicted under outdated laws punishing homosexual activity.

Bayard Rustin was a confidant of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a key organizer of the March on Washington in 1963. He also helped plan other nonviolent protests and boycotts to end racial discrimination.

Gov. Gavin Newsom pardoned Rustin for his arrest in 1953 when he was found having sex with two men in a parked car in Pasadena. He was in town as part of a lecture tour on anti-colonial struggles in West Africa.

He served 50 days in Los Angeles County jail and had to register as a sex offender before returning to his home state of New York. He died in 1987.

Newsom noted that police and prosecutors nationwide at the time used charges like vagrancy, loitering and sodomy to punish lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people.

For the full story, visit NBCNews.com/Feature.

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