LGBTQIA+ History Month: A time to celebrate and reflect

By Wayne Gersie, vice president for equity and inclusion September 27, 2023

A rainbow in the sky over the Arnold Bernhard Library at dusk

LGBTQIA+ History Month marks a time to commemorate the struggles and achievements of the LGBTQIA+ community.

It allows us to acknowledge the historical injustices faced and the progress that has been made. It is an opportunity for both LGBTQIA+ individuals and allies to come together and learn about the pivotal events, figures and milestones that have shaped the movement. Today, we want to shine a spotlight on the invaluable contributions of one key figure in this movement — Bayard Rustin.

In the tapestry of LGBTQIA+ history, Bayard Rustin is a name that may not be as widely recognized as others, but his impact on the movement is immeasurable.

Born on March 17, 1912, in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Rustin was a visionary civil rights activist, strategist and an openly gay man in an era when coming out was far riskier than it is today.

Rustin is perhaps best known for his instrumental role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech. Rustin's meticulous planning and leadership were pivotal in the success of this historic event, which called for an end to racial segregation and discrimination.

However, Rustin's contributions extend far beyond this single event.

He was a committed pacifist who advocated for nonviolent protest strategies, influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Rustin's beliefs and practices significantly influenced the civil rights movement and later became a foundation for the LGBTQIA+ rights movement.

Rustin's story exemplifies the intersectionality of social justice movements. As an openly gay Black man, he faced discrimination on multiple fronts.

His fight for civil rights was intrinsically linked to his fight for LGBTQIA+ rights. Rustin's willingness to be open about his sexuality, even during a time when being gay was highly stigmatized, paved the way for future generations of LGBTQIA+ activists.

In 1986, Rustin took another bold step by publicly coming out as gay. He continued to advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights until his passing in 1987. Today, he is remembered not only as a key figure in the civil rights movement but also as a pioneer in the fight for LGBTQIA+ equality.

While we've made significant strides in LGBTQIA+ rights since Rustin's time, the struggle for equality is far from over. LGBTQIA+ individuals still face discrimination, violence and legal challenges in many parts of the world. LGBTQIA+ History Month serves as a reminder of the progress we've made and the work that remains ahead.

As members of the Quinnipiac community, we have a responsibility to continue in the legacy of individuals like Bayard Rustin. Let us take this month to educate ourselves, honor our history and commit to creating a more inclusive and accepting world for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Get Involved!

To celebrate LGBTQIA+ History Month, consider participating in the following activities:

  • Educational Workshops: Attend workshops and lectures on LGBTQIA+ history, rights and culture. Consider participating in Director of the Office of Community Service and LGTBQ+ Staff Fellow Vincent Contrucci’s New York City walking tour exploring the modern day gay civil rights movement.

  • Film Screenings: Host movie nights featuring films that highlight LGBTQIA+ experiences and history. I recommend the screening of the documentary “Brother Outsider.” This documentary a compelling PBS documentary that illuminates the remarkable life and legacy of Bayard Rustin, a pivotal figure in the American civil rights movement who is featured in this blog.

  • Community Events: Engage with LGBTQIA+ organizations and events on campus and in the community to show support.

  • Social Media Campaigns: Share informative posts, stories and resources on social media to raise awareness.

  • Allies and Advocates: Allies, educate yourself on LGBTQIA+ issues and become an advocate for change.

LGBTQIA+ History Month is a time for unity, reflection and action. Let's come together as a community to honor the legacies of those who have paved the way for progress and continue the fight for equality. Rustin's legacy reminds us that change is possible, even in the face of adversity.

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