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. Marian

    Totally! My best friend and her pternar are having a civil ceremony next summer and she asked me to be her maid of honor. I'm really excited about it and can't wait to help her prepare for her special day!

    April 1, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  2. dywm

    CNN: Your agenda is showing. I especially like how you frame the still-contentious debate about equating gay rights with the civil rights movement...by equating gay rights with the civil-rights movement. People are waking up to your total disregard for objectivity. New York and Los Angeles don't reflect America's values. So why are they allowed to set the tone and narrative?

    February 14, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Pinewalker

      Couldn't have said it better myself! Bravo!

      March 31, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  3. peabody3000

    dr king may have been less than fully informed about such matters of orientation, but from the letter its obvious he seemed to maintain an open mind on the subject and clearly avoided letting it compromise his compassion

    February 9, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  4. YBP

    I'm pretty certain that the good reverend had no clue when it comes to gender and orientation diversity. But if so, he certainly didn't pass on any enlightenment to his little girl.

    February 3, 2012 at 11:52 am |
  5. Robin

    What a ridiculous speculation. It was a different time. Gay rights were not front and center, not occupying anywhere near the visible role in civil rights discussions as the current day. The birth of the modern gay rights movement started with the Stonewall riots in 1969, and MLK died in 1968. It's impossible to view his remarks in the context of current day politics.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  6. MB

    Terribly-written article. 1) "Untied States..." and 2) offhandedly jumps to the conclusion that King, Jr would have supported gay rights. The author all of a sudden goes from asking the question to answering it. I think it is disrespectful.

    January 30, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • MB

      I got that wrong. The article says "Untied Sates" They didn't get either word correct. By the way if it was in a written quote, it makes good editorial sense to include "[sic]"

      January 30, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  7. annavladidi

    Анализ воспитательной работы за 2010-2011 учебный год
    Книги по вдеомонтажу в

    електронному вигляд безкоштовн
    Золото из радиодеталей это просто

    January 30, 2012 at 5:34 am |
  8. christophorm

    A "christian" better not have a wife and be fornacating with a " girl friend"..no fornacators in heaven it says clearly !

    January 26, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  9. Lamar

    Total Speculation.

    January 25, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
  10. Leroy Jacobs Levin

    MLK what a messenger of truth and peace of racial harmony between white and black, this is a great video about those whofunded MLK, it gives reamarkable insight into his backers


    January 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  11. Leroy Jacobs Levin

    MLK a very good Christian, people should really try to learn all about this man this video shows his nature very well.


    January 22, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  12. Douglas

    Celibate, loving, gay/lesbian relationships are consistent with Biblical instruction. It is the practice of acting on the lustful thoughts of gay/lesbian physical coupling where the sin boundary is crossed. Thousands of gays/lesbians are moving toward celibate relationships in response to the desire to reap the rewards salvation that are offered to them for remaining obedient to God's calling. Dr. King could not accept gay marriage since it is contraindicated in Biblical canon. Reach out to your gay/lesbian neighbors and encourage them to consider celibate living as an alternative path to glory. Regards, Douglas

    January 19, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      Stop posting this stupid crap. Gay people are entitled to have loving intimate relationships just like straights. It's not a sin when the gay couple is christian and married before their god, regardless of what society says. Being gay is not a choice, it can't be voluntarily changed and it's not a mental illness. Your prejudice and bigotry towards gays is an abomination.

      January 20, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Ok'yDok'y

      "ewards salvation that are offered to them for remaining obedient to God's calling"

      That's why there are thousands and thousands of gay churches around the world, pastors, rabbis, nuns, and other clergy stating that being gay is NOT a sin and they should be allowed to marry. Keep showing the world your prejudice.

      January 20, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • myweightinwords

      So, you would deny anyone who is gay or lesbian the physical intimacy that is the logical extension of romantic love?

      I can not even comprehend that.

      Any god who would create a person to love someone and then tell them that they could not physically be with that person is sadistic.

      January 20, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • not so

      What about a G-d who requires celibacy in the case of men who 'love' little boys? Is He sadistic as well?

      February 3, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • YBP

      There are no gods. Not even that one left-over from the ancient middle east that you seem to be referring to. Your argument is entirely vacuous. You would be better served to switch your obsession to science. Do some reading. Learn to think.

      February 3, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  13. Erik

    How could anyone be so low down as to put words into the mouths of the deceased, or to approve of the gay lifestyle? How could anyone be so misguided as to think that it is not a choice? Of course it's a choice, a sinful choice. Rev. King made it clear, and the Bible makes it clear.

    January 19, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Sam

      Whats sinful is how gay people do not have rights. It is disgusting and disappointing that anyone would deny the right of two people who are happily together the right to be married. Its disappointing to see that with all the money being put into the school system and with all the talented teachers their are, bigots like you still exist. It shames me to think that our country has people who share your beliefs.

      January 24, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  14. olive

    King wouldve been proud of gays cuz he was one. MLGay day.

    January 19, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • YBP

      Most clergy are.

      February 3, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  15. RFBJR

    I'm amazed at how so many people get into such a tizzy about the subject of ho-m-o-se-xuality. I mean, some guy sticking his thing in another guy's po-o-p shoot...gross!!!!!!

    January 18, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Duh

      Well obviously you're in a tizzy. You do get that men do it to their wives too. DUH!

      January 18, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • it's spelled "chute"


      January 18, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • NDNWarlord

      The Bible is filled with references about the unnatural relationship of men on men and women on women, going against the "natural use" of what God created to be natural. On a side note, Paul taught that to be a elder or decon, one must be the the "husband of one wife" as well.

      January 19, 2012 at 5:49 am |
    • Duh

      "The Bible is filled with references about the unnatural relationship of men on men and women on women, going against the "natural use" of what God created to be natural."

      That's why your god demonstrates it in 1500 other types of species, which means it's totally natural. Plus when you factor in the experts saying it's not a mental illness, it's not a choice and it can't be voluntarily changed it just keeps showing your god created gay people. LOL!

      January 19, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • YBP

      Plus...your god only exists in your imagination.

      February 3, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  16. Jimmy

    Jesus and MLK, neither said anything about gays. So why is it that so many pastors take it upon themselves to teach that Jesus was actually against being gay? Personal distaste and not Christian teaching probably, right?

    January 18, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Ronald Reganzo


      January 18, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Chuck

      They will use anything as justification to refuse gay Americans a rightful place within the American narrative.

      January 19, 2012 at 1:54 am |
    • Chuck

      Not too long ago they were teaching that the Earth was flat. Empirical research does not enter the religious lexicon.

      January 19, 2012 at 1:59 am |
    • Derek

      It is biblical that it is not natural that a man "lie with a man..." I reference the Old Testament. I would give you the reference but it would benefit you more to research the scriptures. The person speaking is Christ. ... and Chuck there isn o proof nowadays of teachings in any era of a "flat" world. The translators of ancient Latin (which was the scientific language of the medieval period) were subpar translators at best. "Flat" was a near translation which referred to what in Latin would be non-ethereal, which does not translate anywhere close to our English understanding of "flat."

      January 19, 2012 at 2:38 am |
    • Serf

      Derek, the OT also says that wearing polycotton blends is an abomination on par with hom.ose.xuality. And jesus never said one word on the topic.

      Have you ever actually read the thing?

      January 19, 2012 at 2:40 am |
    • David Myers

      Derrik you lie! Brazenly! You claim to reference the old testemate without providing a reference and then you say the speaker is "Christ". The bible of Christ is the new testement not the old. Get with it troll!

      January 30, 2012 at 3:29 am |
    • YBP

      Jesus, if he even existed, was believed to have said "I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets.' So we can infer that he was pretty strict when it came to the "Law that Moses laid down." That would include all the sick and hateful tripe in Leviticus. Unfortunately.

      February 3, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • YBP

      @David Myers: Jesus, if he existed as historical person, was a figure of the "old" Testament. The "new" Testamant writings didn't exist until the generation following his death (St Paul's letters) and after the sack of Jerusalem in 70 CE (the Gospels). Plus, all of the NT writings were written by Gentiles and influenced by Greco-Roman legend. Jesus, if he existed, was a Jew, and preached a very radical "Kingdom of God" message which only applies to Jews. Read some NT scholarship. You clearly do not understand your "scriptures."

      February 3, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  17. dandrewa

    Dr King would probably say the Bible say it is Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve. many many thanks to Dr King on what he accomplished in his life and only the Lord knows what would have been possible had his life not been tragically been cut short

    January 18, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • myweightinwords

      I thought the bible taught that your god created ALL people. So maybe he created Adam and Eve, but he created Steve too. And Ralph and Emma and Betty and Ringo and Bubba...

      Now, the author of Genesis wrote about Adam and Eve. I'll give you that much. Maybe he didn't know Ringo and Bubba because they were over in the corner minding their own business and not caring about who was sinning with who.

      Then again, maybe it's all just a story, made up to explain the things that a primitive people didn't understand.

      January 18, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Nicole

      No, he certainly would have been more original than "Adam and Steve." He also probably would have said something about it in his life if he were so strongly opposed.

      January 18, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  18. Grey Goose

    MLGay loved giving head to Whi Tey!!

    January 18, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • congratulations!

      you are in the top 1% of least-witty people on Earth! Have a cookie!

      January 18, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  19. Reality


    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 18, 2012 at 7:19 am |
    • Thor

      How do you know all of those censorship tricks?

      January 18, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • Reality

      • The moderators of this blog have set up a secret forbidden word filter which unfortunately not only will delete or put your comment in the dreaded "waiting for moderation" category but also will do the same to words having fragments of these words. For example, "t-it" is in the set but the filter will also pick up words like Hitt-ite, t-itle, beati-tude, practi-tioner and const-tution. Then there are words like "an-al" thereby flagging words like an-alysis and "c-um" flagging acc-umulate or doc-ument. And there is also "r-a-pe", “a-pe” and “gra-pe”, "s-ex", and "hom-ose-xual". You would think that the moderators would have corrected this by now considering the number of times this has been commented on but they have not. To be safe, I typically add hyphens in any word that said filter might judge "of-fensive".

      • Make sure the web address does not have any forbidden word or fragment.

      Sum Dude routinely updates the list of forbidden words/fragments.

      Two of the most filtered words are those containing the fragments "t-it" and "c-um". To quickly check your comments for these fragments, click on "Edit" on the Tool Bar and then "Find" on the menu. Add a fragment (without hyphens) one at a time in the "Find" slot and the offending fragment will be highlighted in your comments before you hit the Post button. Hyphenate the fragment(s) and then hit Post. And remember more than one full web address will also gain a "Waiting for Moderation".
      Zeb’s alphabetical listing

      o “bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN "awaiting moderation" filter:
      Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      ar-se.....as in Car-se, etc.
      co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, lubco-ck, etc.
      co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
      cu-nt.....as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
      ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
      ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, etc.
      ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
      ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
      jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
      ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
      pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
      pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sh-@t.....but shat is okay – don't use the @ symbol there.
      sp-ic.....as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
      va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!

      There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.
      Allowed words / not blocked at all:
      raping (ra-pe is not ok)
      shat (sh-@t is not ok)

      The CNN / WordPress filter also filters your EMAIL address and NAME as well – so you might want to check those.

      January 18, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Prayer angers demons

    January 18, 2012 at 4:56 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      Troll...you're in need of serious mental health help!!

      January 18, 2012 at 6:47 am |
    • Jimmy

      Everyone's prayers? How about the prayers of non-Christians like Muslims?

      January 18, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Puzzled

      Why would I want to anger a demon? What exactly is a demon anyway?

      January 18, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Fladabosco

      Sticking your finger in a socket will change things too. I'm glad you found something in your life that helps you out, but realize it's just your imagination and don't go forcing it on anyone else and I'm sure we'll be fine.

      January 18, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • YBP

      The remedy for religion is simply education. Do some reading. Learn to think.

      February 3, 2012 at 11:49 am |
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About this blog

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.