Gay Leader of the Civil Rights Movement Bayard Rustin to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

August 8, 2013 By Jesse Melgar
The late Bayard Rustin, gay leader of the Civil Rights Movement to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The late Bayard Rustin, gay leader of the Civil Rights Movement to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The late Bayard Rustin, a gay leader of the Civil Rights Movement and top advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., will be awarded with the nation’s highest civilian honor by President Barack Obama later this year, the White House announced today.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours,” said President Barack Obama. “This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor to present them with a token of our nation’s gratitude.”

Of Rustin’s accomplishments, the White House writes:

“Bayard Rustin was an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all.  An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad.  As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.”

Rustin helped organize the early freedom rides and played a key role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary later this month.

Later in life, Rustin became a gay-rights advocate and testified in support of antidiscrimination legislation.

Lesbian astronaut Sally Ride, who became the first American woman to travel to space in 1983 and died last year of pancreatic cancer is also a recipient, the White House announced in May.

Click here to read the full press release announcing all 16 honorees.

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