01.24.2020

Gay civil rights leader may finally be pardoned 67 years after he was arrested for having sex with men

Gay civil rights leader may finally be pardoned 67 years after he was arrested for having sex with men Photo via screenshot, CNN

Ten years before the March on Washington in 1963, Bayard Rustin was arrested.

Rustin -- who would later go on to become one of the most prolific organizers of the civil rights movement, including as the mastermind behind the March on Washington -- wasn't booked for his activist work, however. He was arrested over his sexuality.

That January night in 1953, Rustin was having sex with another man in a parked car in Pasadena, California. He was jailed on a "morals charge," and served about two months in jail. The offense landed him on the sex offender list.

The charge cost him jobs, and though Rustin didn't necessarily hide his sexuality, it was used against him. Former Sen. Strom Thurmond, a segregationist, read Rustin's arrest record on the Senate floor and used it to delegitimize the civil rights movement, calling him a "pervert."

If that wasn't enough, the record was reportedly supplied to Thurmond by J. Edgar Hoover, who at the time was the director of the FBI.

Now, California lawmakers are attempting to right the wrong.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, joined Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, chair of the Black Caucus, on Tuesday in writing a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom calling for the posthumous pardon of Rustin, who died in 1987.

"Mr. Rustin's conviction and registered sex offender status haunted him for the rest of his life, and it continues to tarnish his name, despite his death thirty-three years ago," it reads. "Indeed, California's treatment of Mr. Rustin tarnishes our entire state."

At a news conference, Wiener spoke to Rustin's legacy and the discrimination he faced due to his sexuality.

For the full story, visit CNN.com/Crime-Justice.