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'Big Win for Justice' as Calif. Gov. Newsom Pardons Late Civil Rights Icon Bayard Rustin

In addition to the posthumous pardon for Rustin, Newsom announced a new initiative for clemency for others who fell victim to the state's criminalization of the LGBTQ community.

American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (1912 - 1987), spokesman for the Citywide Committee for Integration, at the organization's headquarters at Silcam Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, New York City.

American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (1912 - 1987), spokesman for the Citywide Committee for Integration, at the organization's headquarters at Silcam Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, New York City. (Photo: Patrick A. Burns/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom drew praise from progressives Wednesday for posthumously pardoning civil rights icon and lead architect of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom Bayard Rustin.

A victim of the state's then-"vagrancy" law that criminalized the LGTBQ community, Rustin in 1953 was arrested—and spent roughly two months in jail—for engaging in consensual sexual activities with men. He also had to register as a sex offender.

Newsom on Wednesday also unveiled (pdf) a clemency process for others who, like Rustin, "were subjected to discriminatory and unjust arrest and prosecution for engaging in consensual adult sexual conduct." The efforts, said Newsom, could help right an "egregious wrong."

State Sen. Sen. Scott Wiener, chair of the California legislative LGBTQ Caucus, called the news a "big win for justice."

"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."

Wiener and the Legislative Black Caucus had pushed for the posthumous pardon.

"To be clear, the criminalization of the LGBTQ community has never been about preventing harm to anyone but rather an effort to eradicate and erase LGBTQ people from the face of the planet," wrote Weiner and Black Caucus chair Assemblymember Shirley Weber. "Mr. Rustin's arrest and prosecution was purely about this history."

"Rustin was no stranger to time behind bars," they continued. "He was also incarcerated for violating dehumanizing and racist segregation laws and was even beaten for refusing to move from the 'whites-only' section of a bus."

In a new statement, Weber said, "The Arc of Justice is long," noting that "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," said Weber.

Rustin was posthumously awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 by then-President Barack Obama. Rustin is also on the Labor Department's Hall of Honor

In a 2012 article commemorating what would have been Rustin's 100th birthday, Matt Meyer wrote, "his legacy, like his entire life, was a beacon of the power of positive action." 

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