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Michael G. Long

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An Open Letter to Rev. Bernice King

Posted: 10/11/2012 8:51 am

Dear Rev. King,

I've recently learned that you will assume a leading role in organizing the 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where your father dared to share his dream of a nation free from discrimination and prejudice. May I encourage you, as you begin making plans, to remember not only your father's powerful dream but also your mother's unwavering commitment to LGBT rights?

The LGBT movement has missed Coretta Scott King ever since her death in 2006. For more than 20 years, she offered public support for gay rights and sought to link the modern civil rights movement -- and her husband's own legacy -- with the LGBT movement.

I hope you'll especially recall that in 1983 your mother made sure to include a lesbian speaker, the poet Audre Lorde, at the national rally marking the 20th anniversary of the 1963 March. Not long before that historic event, Mrs. King courageously announced her full support for a federal gay rights bill.

Her advocacy for LGBT rights continued, too. After the shocking 1986 Supreme Court decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, which denied that gays had a constitutional right to engage in acts of consensual sodomy, Mrs. King increasingly added her crystal-clear voice to campaigns waged by LGBT organizations and gay-friendly legislators.

In 1993 she held a press conference urging President Clinton to strike down the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the U.S. military. A year later she stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank as they introduced legislation that would have criminalized workplace discrimination against gays. And two years later she publicly denounced President George W. Bush's calls for a constitutional amendment that would have effectively banned same-sex marriage.

All the while your mother remained firmly convinced that your father would have supported her campaign for LGBT rights. She frequently cited his claim that "justice is indivisible" and often noted that by fighting for gay rights she was simply helping to build the "beloved community of Martin Luther King, Jr., where all people can live together in a spirit of trust and understanding, harmony, love, and peace."

Your mother loved the LGBT community, and we loved her back.

I'm writing all this partly because I know that in December 2004 you joined Bishop Eddie Long -- who recently faced lawsuits alleging that he used his riches and episcopal authority to lure young men into sexual encounters -- in leading a march that opposed same-sex marriage. Three months before the march, which started at the King Center in Atlanta, you even announced: "I know deep down in my sanctified soul that [Dr. King] did not take a bullet for same-sex unions." And nearly a decade earlier you decried "men who accept homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle." Those words and actions seem deeply opposed to your mother's legacy.

I sincerely hope you no longer believe, as you once did, that Bishop Long is the rightful heir to your father's spiritual legacy. Unlike Long -- who mocked effeminate men from his pulpit, referred to homosexuality as "spiritual abortion" and preached that God stands ready to "take out" gays -- your father never adopted a conservative approach to the Bible, let alone one that consigned gays and lesbians to hell. Never once did Martin Luther King Jr. use the Bible to condemn gays or homosexuality.

That type of conservative approach to the Bible, which you've sometimes adopted, was utterly foreign to both of your parents. Biblical support for slavery alone made them wary of an uncritical approach to the Bible and, consequently, they adopted other moral authorities, like the Bill of Rights, when inviting us to dream about the inclusive beloved community.

I'm not exactly sure where you stand on homosexuality these days. But I was delighted when I caught a glimpse of your mother in you this past January, when you stated at Atlanta's annual Martin Luther King Jr. rally that you don't care whether someone is "heterosexual, homosexual, or gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender," that what matters most is that we stand together in unity. When I heard your words, it seemed as if your mother was back with us. What a great feeling!

Please be assured that the LGBT community and its allies stand ready to work with you in advancing Mrs. King's inclusive legacy -- a legacy of love without boundaries. Would you be kind enough to include us at every step along the way as you lay plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary?

If you're struggling with this, we would gladly talk with you, in private, about our conviction that gay rights are civil rights, that civil rights are human rights and that human rights belong to all of us. There are also many caring Christians among us who would be more than willing to speak with you about the Bible, homosexuality and the love of God.

Our small dream is that you'll include us in your plans. There are few things we would appreciate more than the opportunity to link arms with you, on Aug. 28, 2013, in a celebration of the dream your father dared to dream for all of us, together. But our big dream is that you will accept us, embrace us and work with us as full members of the beloved community.

May we dream and act together.

Sincerely,
Michael G. Long

 
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