Today the nation remembers slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was born on Jan. 15, 1929, in Atlanta and assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis.
This month also brings the anniversary of the death of Coretta Scott King, who carried on her husband’s work into the 21st century. Coretta Scott King was born on April 27, 1927, in Alabama and died on Jan. 30, 2006, at a hospital in Mexico.
MLK Jr. died more than a year before the Stonewall Riots that gave rise to the modern LGBT civil rights movement and did not speak publicly about gay rights. He did, however, support and work closely with Bayard Rustin, the gay organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and a force in the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Coretta Scott King’s advocacy on behalf of LGBT equality became high profile in 1998, when, in a speech at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, she called on the broader civil rights community to join the struggle.
“Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood,” she stated. “This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group.”
In a 2000 speech at a National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change conference, she said, “Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender, or ethnic discrimination.
“My husband, Martin Luther King Jr., once said, ‘We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny… an inescapable network of mutuality… I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be.’ Therefore, I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”
Coretta Scott King also invited NGLTF to participate in the 40th anniversary commemoration of the March on Washington and her husband’s “I have a dream” speech.