50 Years Later: Lessons For LGBT Equality From Bayard Rustin


Bayard Rustin March on WashingtonWednesday marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an opportunity to revisit the vision of its organizer Bayard Rustin, who was both black and gay. Last week, the Center for American Progress published an issue brief called Lessons from Bayard Rustin: Why Economic Justice Is an LGBT Issue, which provides policy recommendations to tackle poverty, workplace discrimination/wage disparities, and disparities in educational outcomes in the LGBT community. It also framed how much more work needs to be done to fulfill Rustin’s vision for peace, justice, and economic security for all, especially black LGBT Americans.

The report unearths unique characteristics about the LGBT community in the United States, including:

  • LGBT workers are racially and ethnically diverse. One in three LGBT respondents (33 percent) in a 2012 Gallup poll identified as people of color, compared to 27 percent of non-LGBT individuals.
  • LGBT people find it difficult to provide for their families because of stigma and discrimination. Women in same-sex couples are nearly twice as likely as married different-sex couples to be among the working poor.
  • Anti-LGBT harassment correlates with absenteeism. About a quarter of black LGBT youth, for example, have missed at least one full day of school in a month because they felt unsafe, compared to just 6.3 percent of all black youth and 3.5 percent of all white youth.

Black LGBT people, in particular, lag behind in multiple areas of economic security due to the heightened vulnerability that stems from race-based and anti-LGBT discrimination and stigma:

  • Workplace protections and wage disparities: The current patchwork of nondiscrimination laws provides protections for LGBT workers in some states while leaving those in other states economically vulnerable. Even once employed, black LGBT workers still earn less than their white counterparts — black same-sex male couples, for example, earn $20,000 less than white same-sex male couples.
  • Poverty: Rustin saw poverty as a great threat to the larger struggle for human rights among everyone. Currently, black LGBT people are more likely to be living in poverty than their peers, and black same-sex couples have poverty rates at least twice the rate of black different-sex married couples.
  • Educational outcomes: Equal education for black students was a tenant of the 1963 March on Washington, but opportunity gaps still remain. Black LGBT youth who report harassment, for instance, earn a grade-point average a full half-point lower than students who do not experience harassment.

Finally, Lessons from Bayard Rustin includes a series of policy and legal recommendations to policymakers. If enacted, these recommendations would place the LGBT community, including black LGBT Americans, on equal footing with their non-LGBT counterparts. Only by instituting the right laws and policies can Rustin’s vision of economic justice and equality be achieved for LGBT people.

Read the issue brief in full here.

Preston Mitchum is a Policy Analyst with the FIRE Initiative at the Center for American Progress, which works to eliminate the social, economic, and health disparities faced by LGBT people of color.