MLK Day Reflection on LGBTQ Justice

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MLK Day Reflection on LGBTQ Justice

This Monday, we will mark 27 years of observing Martin Luther King Day. Some states began honoring Dr. King on January 20, 1986.

King would have been eighty-four. He was gunned down on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis by an assassin on April 4, 1968. If he were alive today he’d see how much has changed in our nation.

Since King's death every struggling civil rights group has affixed themselves to his passionate cause for justice.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities, in particular, have been reviled for not only naming our struggle as a civil rights issue, but also for naming MLK as one of the civil rights icons that would speak on our behalf.

But would King have spoken on our behalf?

As we celebrate MLK Day 2013 we no longer have to hold King up to a God-like standard. All the hagiographies written about King immediately following his assassination in the previous century have come under scrutiny as we come to understand all of King- his greatness as well as his flaws and human foibles.

As I comb through numerous books and essays learning more about King’s philandering, sexist attitude about women at home and in the movement, and his relationship with Bayard Rustin, I am wondering would King be a public advocate for LGBTQ rights?
James Cone, father of Black Liberation Theology and author of a book and several articles on King states that we must understand King within the historical context of the Black Church. And in so doing, I find it ironic that the public King we witnessed on a national stage talked vociferously about social justice and civil rights for all people yet his personal life did not reflect the same ethos concerning women and gays. Would the public King have spoken out on LGBTQ justice, risking his already waning popularity with the African American community and President L.B. Johnson?

In an address to the Gill Foundation’s National Outgiving Conference in 2007, I said “If Dr. Martin Luther King were standing up for LGBTQ rights today, the Black community would



Comments [1]

Jenny Aisenberg's picture

historical context

I do think it's fair to say that you have to view MLK's theoretical views on LGBTQ equality in the historical context of the black church; because otherwise you'd be somehow ignoring the fact that the national debate on LGBTQ equality did not exist in the 50's & 60's. if he'd lived just one more year, he could've had the chance to say something about the stonewall riots; and even if he didn't say that the queens and bear cubs were his bretheren, I am sure in every fiber of my being that he would've condemned the violence and abuse. and perhaps over the years, as the national conversation on our community developed, we can imagine that he would have ultimately grown to be an advocate for us as much as anyone else. 

and also, I feel like a gomer for being so shocked by this-- but I never knew MLK day has only been observed since 1986! what??? I always assumed it had been observed since the first year after he died. 

"We're all born naked. The rest is drag."
--RuPaul (appropriating Judith Butler for the masses...)