Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, first observed as an official federal holiday in 1986.
While most of you will be enjoying a respite from work, you may also want to take some time to reflect on the tolerance and inclusiveness for which Dr. King fought. Maybe even consider taking it a step further. Try to work through your own prejudices. And before you say, “I don’t have prejudices,” understand that everybody is a little bit racist — homophobic and innately biased.
The Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, “Avenue Q,” put it best in one of the production’s most popular songs:
Everyone’s a little bit
Doesn’t mean we go around committing
Look around and You will find,
No one’s really Color-blind.
Maybe it’s a fact We all should face.
Based on race.
While the song only makes its statement on racism, homophobia and general innate prejudices should be included.
Even Dr. King occasionally struggled with acceptance and tolerance issues.
One of those struggles was when it came to Bayard Rustin. Rustin was an indispensable force behind the civil rights movement in the 1960s. He was also openly gay. Many have called him King’s right-hand man.
And, while King needed Rustin for the movement, he did not immediately embrace Rustin and his sexuality (many labeled it “promiscuity” then), which at times became a liability to the movement.
Even Dr. King succumbed to fear and a desire to keep the movement on track, and the two parted ways a few times.
Eventually, King evolved, realized Rustin’s worth and defended him.
If King hadn’t, the movement would most certainly have been different and likely more violent and less effective.
After Dr. King’s assassination, Rustin took the mantle for many of King’s causes as well as fighting for gay rights.
Rustin died in 1987. In 2013, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for his civil rights activism and belief in nonviolence, which had inspired King and many during that time.
Within our own communities, we have prejudices. A lesbian may not understand a trans or bi person. Some within the black community have been stereotyped for the shade of their skin. Parents do not always tolerate or actively advocate for their LGBTQ children. Some do. (Dorothy Beam article, page 1.)
So, on Jan. 21, enjoy the day off, but let’s make Dr. King proud. Take time to look within yourself, identify your own little bit of racism, homophobia or prejudice, and work on evolving.
There are enough people outside of our communities attacking us. We cannot afford to attack each other.