Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Outing Bayard Rustin

Merced, California is a former farm town/Air Force base bedroom community that's experienced a lot of changes in the 30 years since I last lived here.

We got the second-largest settlement of Hmong refugees placed here back in the late '70s, Castle Air Force Base (where I was born) was de-commissioned, and the tenth University of California campus opened here about five years ago.  Michelle Obama was the commencement speaker, and did a fine job on a sweltering 100+ degree July day.  That's summer in Merced.

I've become semi-active in our PFLAG chapter, and try to keep abreast of developments.  The Prop 8 federal case will be the first to address whether or not marriage equality for same-sex couple is a right guaranteed under the California State and U.S. Constitutions

I think the case for overturning Prop 8, which mandates that marriage shall only be between a man and a woman, is strong.  And I also think that we'll lose this time.  So far, it's been the matter of equal treatment under the law that's been stressed.  I think the real linch-pin will be that Prop 8 passed with only about 53% of the vote; the California State Constitution clearly states that a two-thirds majority is necessary to make any amendments to the Constitution.

If one does the math, 2/3 is 66.67% - far less than 53%. 
This however, is not a point that's being addressed by the plaintiffs in this possibly-historic case.
The Merced Sun-Star had a small squib about this coming Monday's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march and festival.   This year's theme is "Unity."

We'll march from the Amtrak station to the fairgrounds, and then the various speakers will speak, and the booths and exhibits of various organizations will be available for perusal.  PFLAG, however, didn't think to inquire about the event, so we won't have a booth there.  

But, there's always the food.

And there's always next year.

I called the contact who's co-ordinating the event, gave her my name, and asked if PFLAG would be welcome to be a presence in the march.  I also explained that PFLAG stands for "Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays," and said that, as Dr. King had said that "None of us is free until all of us are free," we'd like to participate.  Bayard Rustin, I went on, the man who had organized the historic March on Washington, D.C., was gay, but was kept in the closet because it was felt (at the time) that the issue of civil rights should focus on oppression of the Negroes (I'm using the terminology of the time).  Gently, I inquired whether, with this issue having been placed, in essence, on the back burner, whether it wasn't time to let gays and lesbians participate equally - moving to the front of the bus.

The contact thanked me for raising the question, and said my timing was good.  There's to be an organizational meeting this afternoon, and she'll bring up the topic.  

She took my name and number, and promised to call me back.

So, while waiting, I printed out a copy of my PFLAG Christmas card to President Obama, and got a mild brain storm.

If we're approved, we'll march.  I prepared five small placards:  the first (with PFLAG logo and rainbow letters in the title) says, "PFLAG - Unity for All."

The next is a portrait of Dr. King (Web search and graphics programs are a marvel).  Dr. King's name is below the portrait (as if his image weren't familiar to all).

The next says:  "None of us is free until all of us are free." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The next is a portrait of Bayard Rustin, with his name below.  I think this one will puzzle on-lookers.

The final placard says "Bayard Rustin organized the March on Washington, D.C.  Bayard Rustin was gay."

I'm looking forward to it.

Being the clever-boots artist I am, I'm also contemplating (for this coming summer's Pride Celebration in Modesto - the closest one to Merced) some t-shirts.

Picture this:  A black and white image of Rustin with below it the name "BAYARD RUSTIN."  The first and last names will be in large block letters, the first name on top of the last name . . . and how nice that there are six letters in each name to match the six colors of the gay pride flag.

I'm looking foward to that, too.

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