There’s a wonderful documentary about civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, called “Brother, Outsider.” Rustin, of course, was one of the main organizers of the famous March on Washington where Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” What’s mysteriously less well-known is that Rustin was also gay and this was widely known and mostly accepted by those in the civil rights movement, including Dr. King.
The invisibility of Rustin’s life is relevant, even crucial, for young black and brown gay men today, as Kai Wright poignantly demonstrates in his new book Drifting Toward Love: Black, Brown, Gay and Coming of Age on the Streets of New York (Beacon Press 2008). The young men in Wright’s book are coming up on the streets and are struggling to find “space” – both literal and metaphorical – to survive with little or no awareness that they are trodding a path similar to Rustin’s. There are plenty of adults who think in that terms like “Black” or “Brown” do not overlap with LGBTQ identity, and that has profound consequences for young peoples’ lives. On the streets of New York each night, there are thousands of homeless teens, and according to one recent report, approximately 40% of those kids identify as queer. What’s less widely reported is that fully two-thirds of the estimated 3,500 to 7,000 LGBTQ homeless youth in New York are African American or Latino. The combination of racism, homophobia, and street life leaves these kids vulnerable to a host of abuse, including being subjected to harassment, threats, and violence in homeless shelters that are geared toward a general homeless population. And, despite clear evidence that these kids is not adequately or safely served by general homeless programs, only 25 emergency shelter beds are dedicated specifically for LGBTQ youth in New York City. As Audre Lorde, Black feminist lesbian poet, and essayist (Sister Outsider), wrote: “Without community, there is no liberation.” With only a few days left in this Black History Month, we would do well to recall Audre Lorde’s and Bayard Rustin’s legacies and find a way to include these young people in our ‘beloved community. ‘