California governor posthumously pardons civil rights leader convicted under anti-gay law

California governor posthumously pardons civil rights leader convicted under anti-gay law

California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin Christopher NewsomHow long will it take to conquer the coronavirus — and what sort of society will it leave behind? We'll need entrepreneurship and flexibility in the post-COVID economy Let's put 'Reaganomics' to rest MORE (D) on Wednesday announced the posthumous pardon of civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, a co-organizer of the March on Washington, who was convicted in the 1950s under a state “lewd vagrancy” law frequently used against gay men.

Newsom also announced a broader clemency initiative, saying Californians will now have the option to apply for a pardon for people they believe were targeted under the law for consensual same-sex activity.

“In California and across the country, many laws have been used as legal tools of oppression, and to stigmatize and punish LGBTQ people and communities and warn others what harm could await them for living authentically,” Newsom said in a statement. “I thank those who advocated for Bayard Rustin’s pardon, and I want to encourage others in similar situations to seek a pardon to right this egregious wrong.”

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Rustin was arrested in 1953 and forced to register as a sex offender after a police officer caught him having sex with a man in a car. Opponents of the civil rights movement frequently attempted to weaponize the incident, with Sen. Strom Thurmond (D-S.C.) reading the charges on the Senate floor ahead of the 1963 march.

Newsom’s announcement followed a push for his pardon by State Sen. Scott Wiener (D), chairman of the state's Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, and Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D), chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus, who formally called on Newsom to issue the pardon in January.

“The Arc of Justice is long, but it took nearly 70 years for Bayard Rustin to have his legacy in the Civil Rights movement uncompromised by this incident. 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 said in a statement.

“This pardon assures his place in history and the Governor’s ongoing commitment to addressing similar convictions shows that California is finally addressing a great injustice,” she added.