Gov. Gavin Newsom Wednesday granted a posthumous pardon to black civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, a principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and a top adviser to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Rustin was arrested in Pasadena on a “morals charge” in 1953 for having sex in a parked car with another man and spent nearly two months in jail. He died in 1987.
Newsom Wednesday announced a new clemency initiative to pardon people prosecuted under discriminatory laws in an effort to rectify decades of prosecutions targeting LGBTQ Californians. Rustin’s pardon is part of that initiative.
Newsom said the clemency initiative was inspired by calls from several state lawmakers to pardon Rustin, the Los Angeles Times reported. He said the clemency program will allow pardons for others who were subjected to discriminatory arrests and prosecutions that unjustly targeted LGBTQ Californians.
“In California and across the country, many laws have been used as legal tools of oppression, and to stigmatize and punish LGBTQ people and communities and warn others what harm could await them for living authentically,” Newsom said in a written statement. “I thank those who advocated for Bayard Rustin*s pardon, and I want to encourage others in similar situations to seek a pardon to right this egregious wrong.”
Under the clemency initiative, LGBTQ Californians convicted for vagrancy, loitering, sodomy or other laws used to prosecute people for having consensual adult sex will be eligible to apply for pardons. The Board of Parole Hearings investigates pardon applications and makes recommendations to the governor, who has sole constitutional authority to grant them.
In the mid-1970s, California repealed the law that criminalized consensual sex between same-sex couples. The state in 1997 also passed a law that for the first time allowed those convicted under such laws to remove their names from lists of registered sex offenders.
Newsom has been an outspoken champion of LGBTQ rights since he was mayor of San Francisco and directed the city to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The act became a catalyst for a nationwide political battle over the issue that ended when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of LGBTQ people to marry in 2015.
President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.