Tony R. Wafford, Health and Wellness Director for the National Action Network and the Project Coordinator for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative, participated in a panel discussion after viewing the award winning video, “Brother Outsider: The Life and Time of Bayard Rustin” at LA’s Black Pride At the Beach event (ATB).
A master strategist and tireless activist, Bayard Rustin is best remembered as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, one of the largest nonviolent protests ever held in the United States. He brought Gandhi’s protest techniques to the American civil rights movement, and helped mold Martin Luther King, Jr. into an international symbol of peace and nonviolence.
Despite these achievements, Rustin was silenced, threatened, arrested, beaten, imprisoned and fired from important leadership positions; largely because he was an openly gay man in a fiercely homophobic era. “I think Bayard Rustin was light years ahead of his time. Not only did he have the courage to address issues of racial injustice but he had the guts to be who he said he was, an openly Black Gay man. Can you imagine a Black man in the 1930’s, standing up to racist White America and doing it as a high profile openly Gay Black man? Hell we have over 40 million African Americans living in the US and you can’t name two (2) major high profile openly Black Gay men in this country and its year 2010!” said Tony Wafford.
Rustin’s biography is particularly important to Black lesbian and gay Americans, highlighting the major contributions of a gay Black man to ending official segregation in America. But, if the truth be told his rich contribution is something to be celebrated by the entire Black community in this country.
Rustin stands at the confluence of the great struggles for civil, legal and human rights of African Americans and lesbian and gay Americans. In a nation still torn by racial hatred and violence, bigotry against homosexuals, and extraordinary divides between rich and poor, his eloquent voice is needed, even today.
In February 1956, when Bayard Rustin arrived in Montgomery to assist with the nascent bus boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had not personally embraced nonviolence. In fact, there were guns inside King’s house and armed guards posted at his doors. Rustin persuaded boycott leaders to adopt complete nonviolence, teaching them Gandhi’s nonviolent direct protest.
During the At The Beach event, we addressed the need for a Black HV/AIDS strategy to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic. This strategy should be built from a Black perspective first. Not to take away from the National AIDS Strategy being planned by others, but we understand that as a people, the African American community needs a culturally competent and ethnic specific approach to dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic among Black people. “HIV/AIDS is not a one size fits all pandemic, and trying to address it as if it’s a monolithic issue will only end in the total devastation of us as a people.” said Wafford.
In the summer of 1988, Duane Bremond and a group of his friends decided to come together to organize and enjoy a day “At the Beach” on the 4th of July. Every year since, ATB has grown in participants and in scope. It has become the nation’s largest recognized Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender pride celebration with over 20,000 attendees, of which more than 40% of ATB’s attendees come from other parts of the country and it is the only event in California that brings together thousands of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.