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What did MLK think about gay people?
We know what Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. thought about race, but what about gay rights? His life and his sermons offers clues, some say.
January 16th, 2012
07:00 AM ET

What did MLK think about gay people?

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.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Black issues • Christianity • Church • Culture wars • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Leaders • Uncategorized

soundoff (1,986 Responses)
  1. Rainer Braendlein

    I think gayness is a pointer for us that there is something wrong with the whole mankind (not only with the gays).

    The basic problem of mankind is profanity or godlessness.

    God is the source of life. He even gives us the breath. It is clear that we have to perish, if we abandon God.

    Let us simply return to the source of life and we will recover.

    Jesus Christ has borne our sins, when he did for us on the cross.

    If we simply believe that, God will cure our soul and body.

    January 17, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Reality

      Rainer,

      Read the following very carefully:

      The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
      Jerusalem.

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
      and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      Amen

      (references used are available upon request)

      January 17, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • .........

      Rainer save time do not read anything from reality hit report abuse all reality blogs are bull sh it

      January 17, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  2. myweightinwords

    As to the article itself, I think a good case is presented that King would have supported gay rights, though we'll never know for certain.

    Of course, people change and he may have also grown more conservative and more restrictive as he aged. We will never know.

    The thing is, as good a man as he was, it doesn't matter today whether he would or wouldn't support gay rights. He isn't here. What matters today are the people living today. The ones who can stand up for what is good and just now. The ones that can stretch out a hand in brotherhood/sisterhood today.

    Equality is something worth fighting for, no matter what it is we think divides us.

    January 17, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • iggy

      Oh my, arent you something. Really fooling yourself...

      January 17, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • myweightinwords

      On which point, iggy?

      January 17, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  3. myweightinwords

    Does every single piece dealing with LGBT issues need to be over run by juveniles?

    January 17, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Panty Wearing Fairy

      In a word... *POOT* <-smell my gayButt farts....

      January 17, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  4. EDJ

    Call me cynical, but I would be inclined to think that Dr. King's wife would have known him better (in this context) than someone who was only FIVE YEARS OLD when he died. It sounds to me like Rev. Bernice is using her father to promote her own agenda.

    January 17, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • ned

      And sounds like you are attempting to promote your own Ho~Mo agenda.

      January 17, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  5. Rainer Braendlein

    Gayness is a severe sin, but beside gayness there are other severe sins.

    Assumed I would dare to condemn a gay, I should ask myself before, if I am without sin.

    Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 1:

    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. 24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. 26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. 28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    Reading these lines from the Bible we note that not only gayness is a sin, but also envy for example.

    Aren't we guilty of one of the sins, which are listed above by St. Paul?

    Of course, we are guilty. Let us admit that.

    Like any gay we need deliverance and redemption.

    How to get it?

    Answer: Jesus has borne our sins, when he died for us on the cross. Believe that and get baptized (if you have yet received infant baptism, don't get baptized again).

    By faith in Christ and baptism we get set free from our old man of sin, that means we get set free from the constraint to sin. Moreover we get the Holy Spirit, which enables us to live a life of Christian love.

    Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    P. S.: Even work and family can be idols, when we totally focus on them and don't pursue any works of charity.

    January 17, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • DrewNYC

      It must be hard living with all that guilt. I truly feel sorry for you. Gays are not suffering from any sort of disease. And to suggest that anything is more important than family, I really feel sorry for your family as well. I appreciate that you are trying to not directly attack gays, but you implying that they are a lesser people is just as bad. LGBT people do not need deliverance and redemption. What they need is equality.

      January 17, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  6. GOD DIDNT MEAN 4 MEN 2 LUST AFTER BOOTYHOLES

    M.L.K stood for gods way,adam and eve,not adam and steve

    January 17, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Stanley the Imam

      I think he liked gays. Why do you think its called MLGay day?

      January 17, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • bigot

      you are probably right...MLK was probably a bigot.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  7. Dee

    Some of your comments are just disgusting and I am sure Dr. King would not have approved of them.

    January 17, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Ole Grandad

      Dee, I like it when Im knee high to an erect hotMayonnaise blaster, stroking it and it splatters all over my face.

      January 17, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  8. delsa

    Who cares what he thought about anything?

    January 17, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • Anderson Cooper

      I care!! I enjoyed MLGay day with a good buttSlammin from Bill Maher.

      January 17, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  9. GOD DIDNT MEAN 4 MAN 2 LUST AFTER BOOTYHOLES

    He stood for man and woman

    January 17, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      You know that hetero people engage in sodomy too, right?

      January 17, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • bristoltwit palin... America's favorite dancing cow

      Mmmmmmmm..... sodomy

      January 17, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      You must think it's very odd of me
      That I enjoy the act of sodomy
      You might call the wrath of God on me
      But if you try it, then you might agree
      That you enjoy the act of sodomy...
      Don't worry if you feel ashamed
      It's been around for years
      Thousands more that can't be named
      Are interested in rears
      Don't worry about Hell
      No harm will come to your soul
      We're not all pentacostal
      But everybody's got an as.sho.le...
      It might just improve your s.ex
      A hard act to follow
      The fact that fundamentalists find
      Difficult to swallow
      So join me as I sing
      Of an activity that's fun
      Open up your ring
      and try it front-to-bum!

      January 17, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  10. Anderson Cooper

    Im a flaming gay idiot.

    January 17, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Bill Maher

      Yes you are, Honey and I love you for it. Im gonna slam your Anderson Pooper.

      January 17, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  11. Jake

    What's next? " What did George Washington feel about gay people?"

    January 17, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  12. adamthefirst

    gays always think they suffered more than slaves.

    January 17, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • Panty Wearing Fairy

      Oh yes...bend me over and make me SUFFER. I want to SUFFER in the worst way...

      January 17, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • bigot

      its not about who suffered more, but equal rights for ALL people. This includes gays.

      January 17, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      And Christians claim that they're more persecuted than both gays and slaves (at least on this board).

      January 17, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • Scott

      Christians always think they are being persecuted

      January 17, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  13. Whitney Houston

    Lemmuh tellz ya sumpin Diane. Whitney aint NEVUH gone b fat. U gotz dat? Huh? Wut dat ya say whiteGirl from HimeyTown? Huh...yah whitney kick yo ass!! Crack is whack!

    January 17, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  14. Whitney Houston

    Bobby...HEEEYYY BobBBBAAYYY!!! Where my crackpipe...lets git high.

    January 17, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  15. Enitan

    Not Gay People. Confused people will be the right word to use.

    January 17, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • YeahRight

      Obviously Enitan you were to lazy to get the real facts about gays before forming your stupid opinion. All the world's major organizations have stated gay is not a mental illness, not a choice and it can't be voluntarily changed

      January 17, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  16. bud

    "you honestly recognize the problem and have a desire to solve it.” To me that doesn't leave much room for speculation.

    January 17, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Gladys Fogg

      But there is plenty of room in my bum bum for a speculuum. Come hump my buttHole in salute to MLGay Day!!

      January 17, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  17. Truamerikan

    I truly don't think Dr. King hated anbody, but if truth be told and we assume he was a true Christian minister, he would have been saddened because according to the Bible, how gay people choose to live thier lives is an abomoniatin in God's eyes.

    January 17, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • ham sammich

      Agreed and I need a paddling. Come get some.

      January 17, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • YeahRight

      "Christian minister, he would have been saddened because according to the Bible, how gay people choose to live thier lives is an abomoniatin in God's eyes."

      That's why there are now gay Christians, gay churches and a large religious groups stating being gay is not a sin. The abomination is the hatred and prejudice Christians like you spread in the world because you read the scriptures literally and not in historical context.

      January 17, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Michael

      Which abomination? Eating pork? Shrimp? Cutting our beards? Allowing lesbians to wear slacks? Getting tattoos? Or are you one of those "Christians" who seem to think we're only suppose to keep 2 out of the 613 Holiness Codes?

      January 17, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • Anne

      The Bible also says to cut off your hand, poke your eye out, kill your chldren, etc. etc. It's not to be taken literally.

      January 17, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Chris

      I think the real abomination here is using that word in a sentence and not being able to spell it correctly...

      January 17, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  18. Reality

    ONLY FOR THE NEWBIES !!!

    Dear MLK, (posthumously)

    "Abrahamics" like yourself believe that their god created all of us and of course that includes the g-ay members of the human race. Also, those who have studied ho-mo-se-xuality have determined that there is no choice involved therefore ga-ys are ga-y because god made them that way.

    To wit:

    o The Royal College of Psy-chiatrists stated in 2007:

    “ Despite almost a century of psy-choanalytic and psy-chological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heteros-exual or hom-ose-xual orientation. It would appear that s-exual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of ge-netic factors and the early ut-erine environment. Se-xual orientation is therefore not a choice.[60] "

    "Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab state in the abstract of their 2010 study, "The fe-tal brain develops during the intraut-erine period in the male direction through a direct action of tes-tosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hor-mone surge. In this way, our gender identi-ty (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and s-exual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender ident–ity or s-exual orientation."[8

    See also the Philadelphia Inquirer review “Gay Gene, Deconstructed”, 12/12/2011. Said review addresses the following “How do genes associated with ho-mose-xuality avoid being weeded out by Darwinian evolution?”

    Of course, those g-ays who belong to Abrahamic religions abide by the rules of no adu-ltery or for-nication allowed.

    And because of basic biology differences said monogamous ventures should always be called same-s-ex unions not same-se-x marriages.

    to wit:

    From below, on top, backwards, forwards, from this side of the Moon and from the other side too, gay se-xual activity is still mutual masturbation caused by one or more complex se-xual differences. Some differences are visually obvious in for example the complex maleness of DeGeneres, Billy Jean King and Rosie O'Donnell.

    Yes, heteros-exuals practice many of the same "moves" to include pegging but there is never a doubt who is the female and who is the male.

    January 17, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  19. setnommarih

    After seeing the idiotic staements written here, I'll Pass on any further statement

    January 17, 2012 at 7:19 am |
    • Your husbands big weiner is tastyLicious

      In remembrance of MLGay I just cut a huge smelly fart.!!!

      January 17, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  20. Penis Buffet

    Im jerking off my meat stick so come and drink the hot JizBang!!

    January 17, 2012 at 7:08 am |
    • .....

      You need to seek professional help for your low self-esteem issues.

      January 17, 2012 at 9:31 am |
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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.