Gov. Gavin Newsom posthumously pardoned humanitarian and civil rights leader Bayard Rustin on Wednesday, inviting widespread praise from the LGBTQ community.
Rustin, who died in 1987, was “a visionary champion for peace, equality, and economic justice,” according to the pardon certificate. He was arrested and convicted in 1953 for having consensual sex with two men in a parked car.
His pardon request was made by members of the California Legislature’s Black and LGBTQ caucuses, who inspired Newsom to launch a clemency initiative that will allow pardons for people like Rustin.
“I applaud the Governor for broadening this work to provide other criminalized LGBT people with a path to clear their records of wrongful convictions on homophobic charges,” Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener, who is chairman of the LGBTQ Caucus, wrote in a statement.
Wiener said “generations” of LGBTQ people were “branded criminals and sex offenders simply because they had consensual sex.”
The governor acknowledged on Wednesday that, historically, there have been laws in place to oppress, stigmatize and criminalize LGBTQ people. Newsom thanked those who advocated for Rustin’s pardon in a statement and encouraged others “in similar positions to seek a pardon to right this egregious wrong.”
Samuel Garrett-Pate, communications director for LGBTQ rights group Equality California, thanked the governor for a process in which LGBTQ people and their families can come forward to seek relief from unjust prosecutions of the past.
“The governor has taken a really important step in creating a pathway for people who were convicted under these unjust laws to come forward and seek relief from those convictions,” Garrett-Pate said.
Black Caucus chairwoman and Democratic Assemblymember Shirley Weber said it took nearly 70 years for Rustin to have his legacy in the Civil Rights movement uncompromised by this incident and thanked the governor for granting Rustin posthumous pardon.
“Rustin was a great American who was both gay and black at a time when the sheer fact of being either or both could land you in jail,” Weber wrote in a statement. “This pardon assures his place in history.”
In Sacramento, LGBT Community Center CEO David Heitstuman said Newsom’s clemency initiative is an opportunity for people to heal from homophobic decisions in the past.
“Any time there is an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past, it’s also an opportunity to educate folks and to help them understand how various laws have been used to oppress marginalized people,” Heitstuman said.
He said Newsom’s decision is a win for human and equal rights, yet acknowledged that there is still work to be done on a cultural level to eliminate stigma and bias.
“I think we have a long way to work on the cultural change within our community beyond just what was legally required,” Heitstuman said.
Newsom’s new clemency initiative will work to identify candidates and process applications with the goal of pardoning eligible individuals. Information on how to apply for a pardon can be found at www.gov.ca.gov/clemency.