This year we celebrate Black History Month by remembering the personalities who are the trailblazers of the community and contributed to its upliftment. Tonight, we are going to talk about Bayard Rustin. He fought racism, sexism, and classism all his life as a civil rights activist, friend of Martin Luther King Jr., and organizer of the March on Washington. His vision of nonviolence was breathtakingly broad. He was a labor unionist, a socialist, a pacifist, and, later in life, a gay rights advocate.

Today, scholars would call Rustin an intersectionalist, a man who understood the complex effects of multiple forms of discrimination, including racism, sexism, and classism. Rustin was present at the creation of a host of pivotal American liberation movements. He helped found the Congress of Racial Equality and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, two civil rights organizations that were focused on ending the Jim Crow era of racial segregation. However, Rustin’s homosexuality had always been an issue, and not just to his opponents of the American right or to J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Many progressive activists who were open-minded on matters relating to civil and labor rights were much less so when it came to Rustin’s sexuality. He dedicated his life to helping, as he put it, “people in trouble,” whomever and wherever they might be.