On more than one occasion, Mrs. King reaffirmed her belief publicly that civil rights for gays was a human right and that in keeping with her husband’s legacy she believed that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Now with the death of King, there is fear among gay rights advocates that those in her family who oppose civil rights for gays will exploit the King name and legacy to spread anti-gay messages…and it may already be happening.
Services for King will not be held at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her husband once preached, but at mega church pastor Bishop Eddie Long’s 10,000-seat New Birth Baptist Missionary Church.
Long, is one of several Black Pastors who met at the White House as part of the Republican effort to boost Black support for the GOP during the 2004 presidential election. Long is an outspoken critic of the gays and is against same-sex marriage and is a mentor to King’s youngest daughter Bernice.
The news sent shockwaves through the gay community, who view the choice as inappropriate for a woman whose values were diametrically opposite to Long’s.
As recently as last year, Long joined other Black pastors in calling for a federal marriage amendment to “protect the institution of marriage.”
According to Long, “In Christ, God puts his seed in us. Any other way is a spiritual abortion. Cloning, homosexuality and lesbianism are spiritual abortions. Homosexuality is a manifestation of the fallen man.”
But Mrs. King felt differently.
Dating back to 1996, when the African American Council of Christian Clergy united with anti-gay rights forces in Miami to distribute a flyer at Black churches claiming that her husband Dr. King would be outraged if he knew that gays were abusing the civil rights movement to get special rights, King knew where she stood on the issue. In a public statement, she repudiated the minister’s claims and noted that King would be a champion of gay rights if he were alive.
Later King was quoted as saying, “Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Georgia, and St. Augustine, Florida, and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions.”
Speaking before nearly 600 people in Chicago, King called on the civil rights community to join in the struggle against homophobia and anti-gay bias.
“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. This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group.”
But King was one of very few voices in the African American civil rights community to embrace lesbians and gays and she faced opposition even within her family.
In 1998, King’s niece, Alveda King, trekked across the country speaking at rallies against gay rights legislation calling her organization “King for America.”
Bernice King made news in December 2004 when she participated in an anti-gay march in Atlanta with her mentor Bishop Long. Earlier in October she was quoted in Auckland, New Zealand as saying, “I know deep down in my sanctified soul that he did not take a bullet for same-sex unions.”
In a speech four days before the 30th anniversary of her husband’s assassination, Mrs. King said, “I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice. But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”
Mrs. King was one of a handful of Black civil rights leaders to lend their voice and name to the gay civil rights movement. She, being one of the first to do so. She devoted her life to keeping her husband’s legacy alive and was able to befriend many movements, not just the gay rights movement, because when she spoke people listened.
While King meant a lot to African Americans, she was a powerful ally and friend to gays, especially to Black gays who saw her as one of few civil rights leaders who truly understood equality. By having her services at Long’s church, it not only says gays are unwelcome to attend, but that there are still some in the King family who never truly understood the spirit and the zeal that she had for human rights.
The sad thing is that the spirit and the zeal King has may have died with her within the King family.