By John Blake, CNN
(CNN)– Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was writing an advice column in 1958 for Ebony magazine when he received an unusual letter.
“I am a boy,” an anonymous writer told King. “But I feel about boys the way I ought to feel about girls. I don't want my parents to know about me. What can I do?”
In calm, pastoral tones, King told the boy that his problem wasn’t uncommon, but required “careful attention.”
“The type of feeling that you have toward boys is probably not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired,” King wrote. “You are already on the right road toward a solution, since you honestly recognize the problem and have a desire to solve it.”
We know what King thought about race, poverty and war. But what was his attitude toward gay people, and if he was alive today would he see the gay rights movement as another stage of the civil rights movement?
That’s not the type of question most people will consider on this Monday as the nation celebrates King’s national holiday. Yet the debate over King’s stance toward gay rights has long divided his family and followers. That debate is poised to go public again because of the upcoming release of two potentially explosive books, one of which examines King’s close relationship with an openly gay civil rights leader, Bayard Rustin.
The author of both books says King’s stance on gay rights is unclear because the Ebony advice column may be the only public exchange on record where he touches on the morality of homosexuality.
Yet King would have been a champion of gay rights today because of his view of Christianity, says Michael Long, author of, “I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters,” who shared the story of King’s Ebony letter.
“Dr. King never publicly welcomed gays at the front gate of his beloved community. But he did leave behind a key for them - his belief that each person is sacred, free and equal to all to others,” says Long, also author of the upcoming “Keeping it straight? Martin Luther King, Jr., Homosexuality, and Gay Rights.”
Did King’s dream include gay people?
One person close to King, though, would disagree.
Rev. Bernice King led a march to her father’s graveside in 2005 while calling for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. She was joined by Bishop Eddie Long, senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Church in Georgia, where she served as an elder at the time. Long, who recently settled out of court with four young men who filed lawsuits claiming he coerced them into sexual relationships, publicly condemned homosexuality.
King did not answer an interview request, but she has spoken publicly about her views.
During a speech at a church meeting in New Zealand, she said her father “did not take a bullet for same-sex marriage.”
Yet her mother, Coretta Scott King, was a vocal supporter of gay rights. One of her closest aides was gay. She also invoked her husband’s dream.
Ravi Perry, a political science professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, said King’s widow once said in a public speech that everyone who believed in her husband’s dream should “make room at the table of brother and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”
There is no private or public record of King condemning gay people, Perry says. Even the FBI’s surveillance of King’s private phone conversations didn’t turn up any moment where King disparaged gay people, she says.
“If Dr. King were anti-gay, there would likely be a sermon, a speech, a recording of some kind indicating such,” she says. “And knowing how closely his phones were tapped; surely there would be a record of such statements.”
Those who say King did not condemn gays and would have supported gay rights today point to King’s theology.
Though King was a Christian minister, he didn’t embrace a literal reading of the Bible that condemns homosexuality, some historians say. King’s vision of the Beloved Community – his biblical-rooted vision of humanity transcending its racial and religious differences – expanded people’s rights, not restricted them, they say.
Rev. C.T. Vivian, who worked with King at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, says King would have championed gay rights today.
“Martin was a theologian,” Vivian says. “Martin starts with the fact that God loves everybody, and all men and all women were created by God. He based his whole philosophy on God’s love for all people.”
King’s relationship with ‘Brother Bayard’
Those who say King would have championed gay rights also point to King’s treatment of one of the movement’s most important leaders, Bayard Rustin.
Rustin was an openly gay civil rights leader who is widely credited with organizing the 1963 March on Washington. He was an organizational genius, the man who insisted that King speak last on the program, giving his “I Have a Dream” speech the resonance it would not have had otherwise, says Jerald Podair, author of “Bayard Rustin: American Dreamer.”
“He was the kind of guy who could tell you how many portable toilets you needed for 250,000 people in a demonstration," Podair says. “He was a details guy. King needed him for that march.”
But Rustin could do more than arrange a demonstration. He was also a formidable thinker and debater. He was born to a 15-year-old single mother and never graduated from college.
The movement was led by intellectual heavyweights like King, but even among them, Rustin stood out, Podair says. He read everything and was a visionary. One aide to President Lyndon Johnson described him as one of the five smartest men in America, says Podair, a history professor at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.
“People who heard him speak were transfixed,” Podair says.
Rustin became one of the movement’s most eloquent defenders of its nonviolent philosophy, says Saladin Ambar, a political scientist at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
“He was one of the few individuals not afraid to debate with Malcolm X in public,” Ambar says. “Rustin more than held his own and really challenged Malcolm to push his thinking.”
Rustin was a special assistant to King and once headed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. During the planning of the March on Washington, King resisted calls to jettison Rustin because he was gay, Podair says.
King, though, didn’t speak out on behalf of gay rights because he was doing all he could to hold the movement together, historians say.
He had to constantly fend off rumors that the movement was infiltrated by communists. He was also criticized for expanding the movement to take on poverty and oppose the Vietnam War.
“The movement superseded any discussion of gay rights,” Ambar says. “King was dedicated to the cause at hand.”
With all that was going on, King couldn’t afford to wage a public campaign defending Rustin’s homosexuality, says Vivian, a SCLC colleague of King’s.
“Any employee that would employ a gay person at the time who was outwardly gay would have problems,” Vivian says. “I don’t care if you were the president of the Untied Sates, you would have trouble doing that.”
After the 1963 March on Washington, Rustin remained as King’s adviser. The two, however, drifted apart when King became more radical during the last three years of his life, says Adair, Rustin’s biographer.
When Rustin died in 1987, he was starting to receive attention from gay and lesbian activists who linked civil rights with gay rights, Podair says.
Rustin was a late convert to their cause.
“He never put it [homosexuality] front and center,” Podair says. “He never politicized it until the end of his life. He didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”
It’s no longer unusual today for gay and lesbian activists to draw parallels between their struggles and King’s legacy. Vivian, King’s SCLC colleague, says the comparison is apt.
“There was a time when black people were afraid to be themselves among white people,” he says. “You had to fit a stereotype in order to be accepted. They’re going through the same thing but now they feel better about themselves.”
Vivian says the movement shouldn’t be limited to race.
“As we were freeing up black people, we’re freeing up the whole society.”
Long, author of the upcoming books on King and Rustin, says King’s vision transcended his personal limitations. Maybe he could have said more to that anonymous boy who wrote him at Ebony. But he did leave him a key to the Beloved Community– even if he didn’t realize it at the time, Long says.
Now, Long says, it’s up to those who claim King today to use that key.
“A turn of that key and a gentle push on the gate, swinging it wide open so everyone can enter into the Beloved Community,” he says. “That’s the best way to advance the legacy of Martin Luther King.”
This is a really silly question. Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. There are an awful lot of people walking around today who had very different opinions about LGBT issues 44 years ago. Does anybody really think that if Dr King was alive today he'd have a view that was to the right of where Barry Goldwater was 20 years ago?
Jeesh. CNN really has a way of taking a turn for the worst.
I'm sure you can find other websites where they share your hatred and fear of your fellow Americans who are LGBT.
The only reason CNN published this is to incite violence against LGBT Americans because even though CNN employs gay people, they think the only good gay is a dead gay. If they did not think that they would not allow all these gay bashing Jesus freaks to post here.
You do realize that this is a belief blog?
Every time some anti-gay makes hate speech against LGBT Americans, everyone that hears the hate speech sees how shameful and downright UNAMERICAN that hate speech is. Anti-gays themselves are causing more Americans every day to support their fellow Americans who are LGBT. Check out the polls about marriage equality, a MAJORITY of Americans now support that.
Will not allow our great nation become a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah.
No one cares what the few remaining anti-gays want or believes your "Sodom and Gomorrah" lies, George.
Except that it already is in many ways...greed, corruption, wrath...but I don't care about any of that stuff, so long as the gays understand they're wrong.
Carrot Cake Man,
WOW! You have a lot of issues. Who cares what anyone thinks? If you want to believe that the majority of America supports LGBTFMNOPQRSTUP that is your deal. CNN opinion polls are not actual numbers and once you get outside of the urban core, which is where most Americans live, people have more traditional values. I could care less about the issue, does not effect me, my kids will carry on my name and will live the values we raised them with and we will support them in ANY decisions they make along the way. Relax, you should pop another Xanex sp?
Of all the things about this man that could be on the front of CNN's website, on HIS HOLIDAY, they put this story. To be clear, civil rights and today's iteration of gay rights activism are two different things. There has NOT been a history of 400 years of raping, killing and destroying the families of gay people in this country in a systemic, governmental and social way. I personally know of two people who were at one point gay who, by THEIR CHOICE, decided it was not the life that they wanted to continue to live, which is their right, as it is the right of those who are gay to be so without prejudice. But I can NEVER decide to not be black. Let me try that and see how that works out for me.
Dr. King, was a Baptist Pastor who made the Bible relevant to culture by taking the revolutionary teachings of Jesus Christ to a practical level where you actually love those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use you and bless your enemies. It was the BLACK CHURCH, the head of the Christian church being Jesus Christ, who was at the forefront of the civil rights movement. It would seem that that may be a better angle to talk about the legacy and life of Dr. King on his day, not attempt to hypothesize on what he may have thought about the left leanings of CNN's writers. It is a subject that should be broached, but to make it front page of the website on his holiday is shortsighted and disrespectful to the CLEAR LEGACY he did leave for us to celebrate. Cnn,shame on you. I only wish I could say it to your face. Somehow my words typed don't allow me the bravado that I wish to convey. God bless Dr. King's memory and what he did for black people in this country as a BAPTIST preacher.
Wow, too many anti-gay LIES there to correct them all.
But all legitimate psychological groups agree that "ex-gay" does NOT work and is harmful. After all, you don't REALLY know anyone who is "ex-gay" who isn't being PAID to repeat that LIE. And don't expect us to believe you after all the lies you told here.
In forty years will our prisons be filled with gay people?
What for, Former Reader? MOST Americans support us, and the few anti-gays that want that are now all in the closet.
Can you attempt that one more time....perhaps more intelligently? Not certain what (if anything) is on your mind? My comment was an attempt to show that although MLK had a great idea and the civil rights movement made great strides it is quite unfortunate that so many people dropped the ball and did not really study his teachings and philosophy.
Michael Jackson decided not to be black. There, have something else to rail pointlessly about, you tool.
John, there have been bigoted any-gay campaigns across this county at the city/municipality level. Thomas Monaghan (Dominos) and an activist teams up for one such campaign here in Ypsilanti, Michigan 3 times. 2002 being the last one. I believe you will find, somewhere at the Bentley Museum in Ann Arbor, MI a letter from Mrs. Corretta Scott King during one of those campaigns with her clear opposition to her daughter's opinion and her heartfelt and long thought about observation that her husband would, with more time than he was given, come around to be a champion of LGBT rights. I'll go with the woman who spent the most time with the man over any of the others.
Apparently the author of the article is neither Christian, nor understands Christianity. The author needs to do Bible research before questioning what a Christian minister may or may not be thinking.
You forgot to add "...so that it aligns more closely with what I believe."
Is it any surprise? Even today the majority of black people want "equal" rights but would deny it to gay people.
You have the same rights as any single American out there. Black people didn't.
That's because there is a difference between sinful behavior and skin color. Get a clue!
I never heard of gay only bathrooms, water fountains, lunch counters, gays being denied to vote..MLK would have learned the subtilness of gays.
I mean, God forbid any of the darkies also turn out gay...that's a double negative.
J Edgar Hoover made life a living hell for MLK, and he was gay.CNN POST THIS!!
The hom.os.exuals will never get anywhere by latching onto the civil rights movement because there are no parallels. Hom.os.exuals want to normalize sin.
We got rid of DADT with the help of 80% of Americans, George. We already have marriage equality in 7 states. Who do you think you're kidding about "not getting anywhere"?
It's completely different. I don't have to explain myself to you, it should be obvious how they are not the same. God is never going to let the h.o.m.o.s get away with this.
Can a gay person answer this question, you say you are born gay. Does that mean you are gay because you are attracted to the same gender or are you gay because you acted on that attraction?
I'm gay because I'm attracted to men instead of women. Always have been. Always will be. If I never had any kind of intimate relationship with another man I'd still be gay. A very cranky, sad gay.
Thanks Eric. So, I have an attraction to alcohol, never tried it, does that make me an alcoholic?
If you think about it constantly and feel like you can't exist without it then, yes. Even if you never drink it you're still an alcoholic. That's why they say alcoholics are never cured. But you comparison isn't really fair. Destroying your own life and the life of your family because of an addiction is not the same as simply being attracted to someone of the same gender and wanting to having a loving committed relationship with them. The existence of the bible is the only reason our species has evolved with this stigma attached to people attracted to their own gender.
You said that the existence of the Bible is the only reason for this stigma? There are plenty of cultures that knew nothing of the Bible that knew it wasn't normal and plenty that don't believe the Bible that still live that way. Besides, our species would cease to exist if everyone believed like you.
You're dead wrong, cbinal. There are already NINE MILLION American children of same gender American parents, says the Child Welfare League. You're also dead wrong about comparing LGBT Americans to alcoholism, that's just hate speech.
What a nonsensical analogy.
You cannot be "attracted" to alcohol if you've never tried it. Kinda proves the point actually. I KNOW i am attracted to guys even before I acted on it, which makes me gay before or after the act.
Besides that alcoholism is a disease, being gay is an orientation. If you cannot see the difference, you are not smart enough for me to help you understand.
By the way, your comment that I would still be an alcoholic just shows the depth of your confusion.
"Besides, our species would cease to exist if everyone believed like you."
Wrong. It's called evolution. Our species would cease to exist if everyone were born gay. Evolution is real. It's not a myth. But you go right ahead and keep believeing what you want. It doesn't change anything. You will die believing you are going to some glorious place in the sky and won't ever know how wrong you were.
@Dano Wow did you just prove my point? Alcohol is very attractive without trying it. It looks good, cool lifestyle, everybody having fun, etc, etc. Why stick with plain old milk or water? Haha
cbinal, look at you baiting people by starting out with a seemingly innocent question. It'd be cute if you weren't such a trolling as.shole bent on proving a point to match your own worldview. You must be proud!
ps – Eric was born gay, but you've *chosen* to be a jacka.ss. The world needs fewer people like you.
how can someone be born gay? it makes no sense and just because some pretender points to "evidence" does not convince me or anyone else. can someone be born an axe murderer, how about a crack head....no. One one hand people say it is a lifestyle choice on the other it is that they were born this way. This defies all logic. Being gay, in my opinion, is a choice and a poor one seeing that you cannot further your lineage.
Some of you people are so steeped in your own ignorance it's pathetic. Here's a news flash.. like it or not. God doesn't exist. The bible was not written or inspired by god because, again, god doesn't exist. It was written by a race of people who didn't know any better. By people who thought that women, or anyone else they deemed unworthy, were property that can be owned, bought and sold. The bible is a convoluted mess that contridicts itself at every turn. It's full of violence, incest and a god that is vengeful and unyielding. I'm sorry that you fear death so much that you can't come to terms with the fact that when you die it's over. There's nothing else. But stop trying to make me feel less than you just so you can sleep better at night because you believe in a fairy tale. You got one life and one shot at happiness before it's over. Stop wasting it believing in folk lore. It's 2012.. get over it.
If you don't believe in God, then what are you doing on a belief blog?
Whether you believe or not, you will still have to face Him at the great white throne, then suffer the consequences that follow. It's not too late for salvation, though.
No, I don't have to face him. He doesn't exist. When I die I'll go to the same place the billions of other people who have died before me went.... nowhere. I will no longer exist.
For some, god is the sum of all consciousnesses and intellect and not some "guy in the sky". Folklore is subjective and before you critic and oppress that which you do not understand, look in the mirror. You might just be that which you hate and fear so passionately.
White men have created God in his own image and likeness, and now that whites don't like what kind of god they've created all of a sudden there is no god.
The Fool has said in his heart there is no God. Oh yeah, that's what God says I guess it doesn't count since you think He doesn't exist.
Look, I was raised a Jehovah's Witness and was in the cult for 27 years of my life. I know all about the bible. I've read it cover to cover numerous times. It doesn't make sense. Sure, it made me feel good thinking that when I died there was some great prize waiting for me because I followed all the rules. But the truth is if god were real we wouldn't be having this conversation. He would leave no doubt in our minds by giving us signs and divine messages as he alledgedly did for those living during the times of the bible. Why would he feel that they needed signs but our generation doesn't? Doesn't make sense.
I'm really sorry you few remaining anti-gays worship nasty "deities." But those voices in your heads you think are "deities" are NOT our problem. No wonder Americans are leaving churches in droves.
@Eric you're right Jehovah's Witness is a Cult and you read the wrong Bible. No wonder you're confused. I've studied the Bible for 25 years and have never found one of these "contradictions" you guys always bring up. But, it's supposedly riddled with them
Sorry. All religion is a cult. It's all mind control. It strong arms you into believing a certain way and tells you if you dare believe any other way god will punish you. It's ALL a cult.
"I've studied the Bible for 25 years.."
Ah. That explains it...I knew you must have a reason for your behavior. You must be an expert by now, huh?
Just like the gay community to try to make it all about them on MLK's day...
Absolutely, and it just sickens me.
But it also kind of makes me want to touch myself more.
gay white men still had privilages the MLK didn't have.
What we need is White entertainment tv, Does that set you off? Then if it does your Raciest. I Love BET. Dont bother me a bit.
whites have CMT NBC CBS ABC FOX..need I go on?
I believe that Dr. King would have clarified his beliefs on this issue, as millions of Americans have, over the last twenty years. I don't believe that he would say today that these are not innate tendencies and that they can be overcome. It was an issue that was in the closet for the most part at that time. Today it is more fully discussed and King would bring his Christian thought to the fore.
hmmmmm, good question but I am sure MLK did not bend over in front of them.
Dr. Martin Luther Kings' quote, which the writer has provided, doesn't say he would march with, nor support gay rights. In Dr. Kings' answer to the "boys" question, King indicates the boys condition as a "problem", and that, "the boy is on the right road to a solution." At the same time, Dr. King shows compassion for the "boys" dilemma. Wish people would stop misconstruing the works of other people.
CNN IS RACIST N HATES MLK
Wow. There is so much hate on this message board. The vast majority of those making comments seem completely incapable of intelligent thought or discourse. I'm sure that God will reward you all well for all your hate. Maybe you need to focus on love for a change?
Intelligent thought or discourse? ...and you mention your fairy tale God? The irony!
If you read the Holy Bible, it clearly states that GOD hates sin. Who sins? People. You can try to separate the sin from the sinner, but it doesn't work that way. If for the "wages of sin is death," and the price for sin is "the lake of fire in hell," will the sin die, and burn, or will the body die, and the soul burn in hell?
p41–you will spend eternity in torment separated from God. But, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Email me at yahoo dot com if you want to know how to accept this free gift from God.
@p41 – therefore god hates people? What?
@Emcee Ice Cold: Ha ha, I loved your response. I wasn't saying that my god would judge them; I completely understand the irony you caught. I was making the implication that their god–a supposed deity of love–wouldn't find their responses to fit the so-called values they seek to espouse. I am right there with you on archaic belief systems. I am sorry for the confusion.
We LGBT Americans are NOT "more important" than non-gays, Celt, and I know way more than 90% of the news CNN carries involves non-gays. What you don't seem to understand is non-gays are not "more important" than LGBT Americans either. No one made you come to this story or whine about this coverage.
WTH CNN? really?
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.