Martin Luther King Jr spoke out about homosexuality while responding to a young man’s request for advice in 1958.
In turbulent times, it’s always tempting to seek words of wisdom from history’s great leaders. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, many will wonder what America’s legendary activist would think if he lived today.
No doubt he would celebrate many things, but we imagine he would also despair at the fact that racism still persists in almost all areas of life: housing, employment, education, crime and imprisonment, and experiences of police brutality.
This is especially true for queer Black people, who face increased discrimination. For some, this can be deadly: just look at the epidemic of anti-trans violence still plaguing the US, which disproportionately affects black trans women and is fueled in part by anti-transgender rhetoric. trans people from legislators across the country.
The government openly discriminated against LGBTQ+ people when Luther King Jr. was alive (no change then), and gay sex was criminalized in all but one state.
Despite this, the civil rights hero was able to speak to and about gay people with a level of patience and kindness unusual for his time.
He openly discussed homosexuality while writing an advice column for ebony magazine in 1958. According to a transcription published by Stanford Universityan anonymous child asked: “My problem is different from what most people have.
“I’m a boy, but I feel for boys what I should feel for girls. I don’t want my parents to know about me. What I can do? Is there somewhere I can go for help?”
Dr. King replied: “Your problem is not unusual at all. However, it requires careful attention. The kind of feeling you have towards guys is probably not an inborn tendency, but something culturally acquired.
“Your reasons for adopting this habit have now been consciously or unconsciously suppressed.
“Therefore, it is necessary to address this problem by revisiting some of the experiences and circumstances that lead to the habit.
“To do this, I suggest that you consult a good psychiatrist who can help you bring to the forefront of awareness all those experiences and circumstances that lead to the habit.
“You are already on the right path to a solution, since you honestly recognize the problem and have a desire to solve it.”
Although Dr. King’s response would be troubling by modern standards, his advice to the boy is remarkably calm and courteous given the fears and active alarmism about gay people at the time.
The civil rights activist was tragically murdered in 1968, a year before the Stonewall riots gave rise to the gay rights movement, so we’ll never know his true feelings on the matter.
But Dr. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, continued his work and dedicated her life to fighting for LGBTQ+ rights alongside civil rights, believing that he would have done the exact same thing.
As early as 1983, Ms. King urged that gays and lesbians be protected from discrimination and was ahead of her time until her death in 2006.
She endorsed same-sex marriage in 2004, declaring it a civil rights issue, before adding that her late husband would have been in favor as well.
Ms King told gay rights activists at the time: “I am proud to stand with all of you, as your sister, in a new great American coalition for freedom and human rights.
“With this faith and this commitment we will create the beloved community of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, where all people can live together in a spirit of trust and understanding, harmony, love and peace.”
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