It's A Long Story|
[Most Recent Entries]
Below are the 4 most recent journal entries recorded in
|Monday, August 4th, 2008|
|Blame It On Bayard IV
A few months passed and I was still in the service of Pella Windows. I found myself minding the Pella booth at the State Fair. During my break I wondered around visiting the other booths and stopped to chat at the LGBT booth.
When I was the diversity coordinator at Deluxe Checks, I did some research on GLSEN (Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network) and had been interested in starting a group in my hometown. GLSEN wasn't very user- friendly so when I when I visited the LGBT booth at the Fair, I asked about starting a GLSEN branch. They confirmed my suspicions that it was not easy to get a GLSEN branch going because the application alone was 50 pages. Yikes! No thanks!
What is your interest in GLSEN they asked. I explained that I wanted to join a straight-inclusive gay rights organization. Why don't you join our group was the reply. What do you do, I asked. They listed their upcoming events and one of them was a program on Bayard Rustin.
They said the magic words!
"Oh! I love Bayard Rustin," I gushed.
"You know who he is?" was the astonished reply.
"Sure, I've done a lot research on him."
"Do you want to run our program about him?"
That moment was the beginning of my formal involvement in the fight for LGBT equality.
|Sunday, August 3rd, 2008|
|Blame It On Bayard, Part III
Who? Bayard Rustin? Who the heck is that? What kind of name is that?
These were the questions that I murmured to myself throughout the rest of the film. I didn’t even know how to spell his name. When the film ended and the credits started to roll, I had a pen and paper in my hand so I could catch his name in the cast list.
I put my notes in my suitcase and vowed to look him up on the internet when I got home.
Upon my return, the first thing I did was order the sound track of the movie, "Boycott", from Amazon.com. It’s a mixture of gospel, jazz and blues. There are great tracks by Nat King Cole and Dizzy Gillespie. My favorite song goes like this: "We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes".
Next I started reading about Bayard Rustin. He was a Quaker and a pacifist who spent time in prison for not serving in the armed forces. He convinced MLK to embrace non-violent protest and he organized the famous 1963 March on Washington where MLK made his “I Have A Dream” speech.
For more details on Bayard go here: http://www.lambda.net/~maximum/rustin.html
However, none of the websites told me why he was written out of history.
A year later, on MLK day, I got my answer. PBS showed a documentary about him called “Brother Outsider”, http://www.rustin.org/
To summerize, Bayard had been arrested because he was gay and charged with “public indecency”. He had a younger, white boyfriend and was relatively open about his sexual orientation. The FBI had a file on him and J. Edgar Hoover called him "suspected communist and known homosexual subversive." A smear campaign was started and eventually MLK and the movement distanced themselves from him. Although Bayard continued to fight for peace and civil rights for the rest of his life, he was written out of the most well known parts of civil rights history.
I had my answers and the sound track CD.
(To be continued)
|Saturday, August 2nd, 2008|
|Blame It On Bayard, Part II
Okay, some may say that driving to the suburbs makes me uneasy. I admit it’s true. All those identical houses in identical developments where every street is a cul de sac and everyone is obsessed with their lawn; that’s just not right.
I don’t know if I can put my finger on what it was about Pella, Iowa that made me anxious. It’s not that I thought the Klan or some skinhead group was lurking nearby. I didn’t feel threatened, just off balance. I guess it was that I didn’t think places like this existed. It seemed like my home in New York and that small town in Iowa were in two different worlds.
That “Twilight Zone” feeling increased when my training class went to, what is considered the highlight of any trip to Pella, Iowa, the local steak house. It was about 7 miles out into the countryside and without the standard light pollution I was used to, it was really dark outside. When we pulled in, we were greeted by a three-legged dog and three teenage boys who were sitting around an open fire in the parking lot. In my imagination, I could hear the banjo music from “Deliverance” as I walked toward the door.
What’s so great about this place? The customers order their meat raw from the restaurant’s meat case and then cook it themselves on a huge grill over an open fire. Everyone stands around drinking themselves silly while watching their steak cook. It’s a unique idea that probably wouldn’t have made it past the health inspectors in NY.
But what about Bayard? I’m getting to that part.
It just so happened that my week of training encompassed Martin Luther King Day. As you can imagine MLK day is not a big deal in small town Iowa. There was nothing anywhere in town, at the factory, at the training center or in my hotel to indicate that holiday. Once again, I felt like I was in another country.
After spending a fascinating day learning about the light and heat transmission of different types of glass, I returned to my hotel room and turned on the television to see if there was anything good on HBO. I was just in time to catch the beginning of a movie called “Boycott”. http://www.hbo.com/films/boycott/
The movie was about Martin Luther King and the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott. The true story is epic, the acting was great and the soundtrack was incredible. It captured me right away and I was practically glued to the screen throughout the movie.
As a student of history, an admirer of MLK and a one time diversity coordinator, I was familiar with leaders of the boycott who were portrayed in the film. Then about midway through the movie, a new character appeared, one that I had never heard of. In the film, Martin and Coretta King paid him much deference and he became a mentor to MLK. He seemed so important to them and to the civil rights movement. Who was this guy?
It was Bayard Rustin.
(To be continued)
|Friday, August 1st, 2008|
|Blame It On Bayard
A friend asked me to tell the story of how I became a LGBT rights activist.
It's all Bayard Rustin's fault.
Who is Bayard Rustin, you might ask. Is he a friend, a teacher, a next door neighbor? Nope. None of those. Bayard Rustin was one of the pivotal leaders of the African-American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. You're thinking, but wait a minute, I have never heard of him. How important could he have been? The short answer is he was very significant and the reason we never heard of him was because he was gay.
My friends will tell you that all my stories are long because I always start at the very beginning. I was a history major so what script writer's call the back story is extremely important to me.
The back story to how I got formally involved in the pursuit of equal rights for LGBT people, started years ago. My employer at the time, Pella Windows, sent me to the company's headquarters in Pella, Iowa for training. It's not easy to get to Pella, Iowa. First, one must fly to Chicago, change to a smaller plane and fly to Des Moines, then rent a car and drive to Pella.
Pella, Iowa is a lovely town of about 10,000 people and the most homogeneous place that I have ever visited. Almost everyone is Dutch-American; almost everyone's last name begins with De or Van. Everyone belongs to the same religion and everyone in town works for one of two companies. The company I worked for, Pella Windows, has never had a lay-off. People work there all their lives. The town has two Dutch chocolate shops and three Dutch bakeries. I happily visited them all. The street signs have windmills on them and the highlight of every year is the tulip festival in the spring. Restaurant meals are inexpensive and you can buy a beer at the town bowling alley for 50 cents.
It's a quaint little town and it made my extremely nervous. The last person of color that I had seen had been at O'Hare Airport.
(To be continued)