Bayard Rustin Posthumouly Pardoned

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
February 10, 2020
<a title="New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Wolfson, Stanl
Share this

On February 5, 2020, California governor Gavin Newsom announced that he was pardoning Bayard Rustin, the civil rights leader who helped plan the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1963 March on Washington.  Rustin died in 1987 at age 75.

Police in Pasadena, California, arrested Rustin in 1953 for having sex with another man in a parked car.  Rustin served 50 days in Los Angeles County jail and had to register as a sex offender.

At the time, law enforcement officers regularly cited California's vagrancy laws--specifically sections that addressed "soliciting or engaging in lewd or dissolute conduct"-- to justify arresting individuals they believed to be gay or members of other marginalized groups.

In 1947, the state required indivduals convicted of "immoral conduct," including consensual same-gender sexual intimacy (even kissing and dancing), to register as sex offenders.  Those individuals were not allowed to teach in public school, hold government jobs, or run for public office.

Governor Newsom not only pardoned Rustin but announced a broader clemency initiative to pardon individuals convicted of state laws targeting gay people.

In 1975, the state of California decriminalized private consenxual sex between adults of the same gender. And in 1997, the state established a process for individuals to remove their names from the sex offender registry, if they were convicted under earlier laws criminalizing gay people.  But that process doesn't address their underlying criminal convictions.

Learn More