VHS to host screening of film documenting the life of openly gay Civil Rights Leader Bayard Rustin
In continuation of the Created Equal Film Series in Honor of Grady W. Powell, the Virginia Historical Society, with support from Diversity Richmond, will screen Brother Outsider: the Life of Bayard Rustin on September 10th, the Thursday before Virginia Pridefest 2015.
The film documents the life of the openly gay Civil Rights leader and social activist best known for his prominent role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington in which Martin Luther King Jr. uttered his “I Have A Dream” speech.
“Rustin said that the issue of gay rights was the new Civil Rights movement. He realized within his own life the duality of his struggle,” said Bill Obrochta, Manager of Educational Services at the Virginia Historical Society, and one of the primary drivers behind the film series.
“Because Diversity Richmond is one of our sponsors, we thought it would be a really fitting program to do.”
Ray Green, the Chair of Diversity’s Programs Committee and one of the people involved in organizing the discussion after the screening, agreed.
“In the context of Black Lives Matter and of the recent advances in the LGBTQ community, there is intersectionality there,” said Green. “Rustin lived as an out gay Black man in a time when gay people were suppressed. He was the lead organizer during the March on Washington, and yet you rarely hear his name mentioned. It is in part because he was a gay man in a time when that was difficult to talk about in society.”
Rustin’s focus as an activist transcended Civil and Gay Rights.
“If you look at Rustin,” said Obrochta. “he comes from a strong Quaker background…he sees what we call the Civil Rights Movement as being an extension of the Peace Movement, the Nonviolence Movement, the Labor Movement, and he sees their connection with race.”
Rustin’s activism included working against the interment of Japanese Americans during World War II, giving him a different background than others who came into the Civil Rights movement in the 50′s and 60′s.
“A lot of people grew into [social justice] because of involvement in Civil Rights,” said Obrochta. “But for him, he was involved in [social justice], and because of that, he became involved in Civil Rights.”
Following the movie, a moderated discussion by members of Diversity Richmond’s Board of Directors will provide an opportunity to talk about, as Green put it, “the lessons we’ve taken in the Gay Rights Movement, standing on the shoulders of people involved in Civil Rights.”
Green said that public conversation might be the most interesting part – understanding the progress that has been made in the last few years, vs. the issues still faced by the Black community.
“We need to address that while we’ve made progress in Gay rights, we’re experiencing backlash in regards to the rights of African American,” he said. “We have a strong stake in seeing rights for African Americans not get rolled back. These ideas are important to examine publicly.”
Next up on the docket at the Virginia Historical Society, on October 22, they will show a special preview of the upcoming documentary They Closed Our Schools about the early 1960s closure of public schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia.
That screening, also part of the Created Equal Film Series, will be followed by discussion with author Kristen Green (author of Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County), as well as former students who were disallowed from attending school in their home county as a result of institutionalized racial oppression.
Until then, be sure to attend this month’s screening of Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, on September 10th at 6:00 PM at the Virginia Historical Society to learn more about a man who fought, as Obrochta puts it, for “issues not just about racism, but about fairness and justice in society.”
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