California Governor Gavin Newsom pardoned the late civil rights leader Bayard Rustin on Wednesday.
Rustin died in 1987 at the age of 75. He was a leader in the nonviolent movement for civil, labor and gay rights and widely credited for organizing the March on Washington and the Freedom Rides of the 1960s.
“In California and across the country, many laws have been used as legal tools of oppression, and to stigmatize and punish LGBTQ people and communities and warn others what harm could await them for living authentically,” Newsom said in a written statement. “I thank those who advocated for Bayard Rustin’s pardon, and I want to encourage others in similar situations to seek a pardon to right this egregious wrong.”
Newsom’s clemency program gives a pathway to pardons to LGBT Californians convicted for vagrancy, loitering, sodomy or other laws used to prosecute people for having consensual adult sex. A parole hearings board investigates pardon applications and makes recommendations to the governor, who has sole constitutional authority to grant them.
Rustin was arrested in 1953 for having sex with another man in a parked car in Pasadena, California. People for the American Way called the pardon “long-overdue.”
“Rustin was a person of peace and principle whose unsung leadership within the civil rights movement deserves greater attention,” PFAW President Michael Keegan said in a prepared statement released Jan. 28. “He was undoubtedly harmed during his life by the racist and homophobic climate of the time, and nothing can erase the suffering he endured.”
In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom.