An Organization You Should Know – Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition in San Francisco

Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition Rally at City Hall Photo Provided By Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition. Bayard Rustin and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Photos Courtesy of the Associated Press

Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition’s (BRC) mission is to embrace advocacy and education to effect social change through the creation of a political dynasty that is visionary, proactive and rooted in the Black and LGBT experience. The agency’s namesake is from Bayard Rustin the civil rights activist who was the brainchild behind many of the greatest civil disobedience acts of the twentieth century.  On August 7, the White House announced that President Obama would posthumously award Rustin with a Medal of Freedom.  Bill Doggett BRC’s spokesperson recently talked to PrideIndex about Rustin legacy and its importance to the larger architecture of social justice protest in the United States.

PRIDEINDEX (PI):  How are you today?

BILL DOGGETT (BD):  I am doing fine how are you?

PI:  We are all set to talk about the Bayard Rustin Coalition in San Francisco.

BD:  Yes. Let’s get started.

PI: First I’d like to talk about the organization how did the Bayard Rustin Coalition get started.

BD:  The Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition is inspired by the legacy and lifeworks of Bayard Rustin.  The Coalition’s period of gestation and development began in focused response to a time period in San Francisco’s LGBTQ community 2004-2006 where discrimination against LGBTQ people of Color reached an explosive boiling point in the Castro district of San Francisco.  The Castro District has been for decades the Gay Mecca of the West Coast as Greenwich Village has been for the East Coast.   The Flash point which spawned the development and birth of the Bayard Rustin Coalition came during the period of 2004-06, when several bars in The Castro with the prominent bar, Badlands began instituting a policy of triple carding African American patrons.  Dormant issues of White Gay entitlement and privilege exploded resulting in a sustained movement of Civil Disobedience and Protest by LGBTQ activists, the development of the umbrella organization to assist this Civil Disobedience, And Castro For All –in addition to –The Bayard Rustin Coalition

PI:  When was that coalition formed?

BD: Between 2004 and 2005 coming into full fruition in 2006.

PI:  Is this a 501 c3 not for profit organization?

BD: Yes it is.

PI:  What is your role with that organization?

BD: My role with the organization is one of its media spokespersons. Bayard Rustin Coalition is comprised of a number of Black and White LGBTQ community activists in the Bay Area.

Among the most important early members are its founder, Zwazzi Sowo and Chair Emeritus, Andrea Shorter.

Zwazzi Sowo is one of the great elders of The Movement in the SF Bay Area with a distinguished leadership dating back to the early 1970s.  Zwazzi is the person who helped to forge diverse LGBTQ and progressive coalitions in The SF Bay Area to coalesce in the spirit of the non violence and civil disobedience on issues of Social Justice: the two leading tenets of social action that Bayard Rustin stood for.   Andrea Shorter is equally distinguished as a torch bearer to the legacy of Zwazzi Sowo with years of important civic leadership in San Francisco distinguished by her leadership of the City of San Francisco’s Commission on The Status of Women and leadership in Equality California and  Gay Marriage in The Black Community. Also very noteworthy are the roles of BRC board members, Lisa Williams, Josh Smith and Lawrence Shine.  Lisa Williams and Josh Smith, long time board members of  San Francisco Pride, the organization responsible for the annual Pride Month events have played critical supportive leadership roles at BRC.  At San Francisco Pride, Lisa Williams is the current interim Executive Director. Lawrence Shine is BRC’s business and managerial anchor responsible for its numerous community events and for its website.  Shaun Haines, an intern does great work for BRC around IT and social networking.

PI: A few weeks ago marked the fiftieth anniversary of the march on Washington which Bayard Rustin played the most integral part. What did the Bayard Rustin Coalition do to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the march on Washington?

BD: We had a rally on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall during which I and a number of other Coalition members participated  the rally opened with Civil Rights Movement Freedom Songs performed by Oakland based Soul and Blues singer, Terrie Odabi.  Andrea Shorter was the MC of the event and provided wonderful linkages between speakers.   The speakers included Dr. Kenneth Monteiro, Chair of the Ethics Studies Department at San Francisco State University and his partner Dr. Perry Lang, the Executive Director of the Black Coalition on AIDS in San Francisco, myself representing my late Civil Rights Movement father, Rev. Dr. John N Doggett. Reverend Daniel Bates of the City of Refuge and the Pacific School of Religion, transgender activist, Veronika Fimbres  and  Latina Friend of the Coalition, Renata Moreira

PI:  As I scroll through your website I see the Jordan/Rustin Coalition and the Equality for All   tell me about those organizations and why it was so important to reach out to other organizations and other subsets in the LGBTQ community?

BD:  That’s a great question. It speaks to what Bayard Rustin was essentially all about – bringing diverse groups of people together who share common goals to coalesce behind the larger architecture of civil rights, equal rights and social justice.  As Rustin once said there is always power in numbers. Rustin’s tenets of social justice and social action understood that diverse groups who may otherwise seem distinct and separated by their respective missions –are in fact—more grounded  and enabled to achieve results around common shared goals than around their respective organizational agendas    For example, LGBTQ communities, communities of Color, Youth and Seniors have much more in common around coming together to achieve a common goal in the pressing issues and challenges to The Voting Rights Act and the Election of 2014 than what may otherwise separate them.

PI: President Obama has awarded the Medal of Freedom to Rustin. What was your reaction to this news?  Does the Bayard Rustin Coalition have any special plans to celebrate?

BD: Our reaction was one of celebration.   We’re in the discussion phase to have an event in the Bay area to celebrate this posthumous honor.

PI: For those that do not know who Bayard Rustin was talk about him briefly.

BD:  Bayard Rustin played an indispensible role in The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom of 1963.  He was the shadow or if you will, the ghost architect of The March on Washington.  The 1963 March was inspired by the unrealized precursor of a similar March on Washington planned for the early 1940s by A Phillip Randolph, founder of the Pullman Porters Union, one of Bayard Rustin’s important mentors and collaborators.

Additionally, a critical truth must be told:  Bayard Rustin played an integral role in the intellectual and philosophical development of ideas of Social Justice, Social Action and Civil Disobedience for the young Reverend Martin Luther King Jr,  Bayard Rustin’s critical contribution to the strategy and architecture of the early development of the Civil Rights Movement has never been properly acknowledged.

Although Martin Luther King is credited with being influenced by Gandhi in his readings, it was in fact Bayard Rustin who had worked with Gandhi in India, who had brought Gandhi to King’s attention urging him to study Gandhi for his critical potential value to the development of a Social Protest Movement architecture in the United States, Rustin, along with A. Phillip Randolph worked assiduously in Anti War, Pacifist and Labor Rights Movements of the 1940s and early 1950s.

Historically we think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks as being the organizers of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott but it was Rustin who was in Montgomery before the iconic arrest of Rosa Parks assisting community activists who were already upset about the Jim Crow discrimination on public buses in Montgomery.

Rustin was also an important friend of the young college student and aspiring soprano, Coretta Scott King who was interested in social activism before she married Martin Luther King.    Both she and Bayard were skilled classical music singers and their friendship bonded around music and issues of social justice and social change sourced in great part from Bayard Rustin.

PI: That’s breathtaking.

BD: What is critical here is that Bayard Rustin has now taken his long overdue place in the history of The Civil Rights Movement by being awarded posthumously The Medal of Freedom by President Obama, our first African American President.

Rustin was the quintessential architect of strategy for The Civil Rights Movement and related movements of Civil Disobedience and Social Protest that were inspired by The American Civil Rights Movement.

Consider the untold history: A Philip Randolph had lobbied heavily to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the march on Washington to take place in the 1940s but Roosevelt did not want the march to take place. The plight of African Americans was not totally ignored.  Eleanor Roosevelt played an instrumental part when she helped to organize the historic 1939 Easter Sunday Lincoln Memorial Concert after Marian Anderson was denied the opportunity to sing at Constitution Hall because she was African American.   Bayard Rustin was there all along, paying attention, taking notes……long before the 1963 March.

The good news about all of all this is that it took a younger generation of leadership represented by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for Bayard Rustin to be properly recognized.  The Obamas have done indispensible service to the cause of opening  the doors of greater dialogue and the ushering forward the journey to inclusion and equality for not only America’s LGBTQ citizens but in particular for its African American LGBTQ citizens.   We must truly acknowledge their leadership as it both of them who have dared to talk about the white elephant in the black church and the black community: the existence of and the right to full equality of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer African Americans within the Black Church and the larger community. Along with NAACP President and Chief Executive Officer, Ben Jealous, The Obamas have sheparded forward the critical conversation in the black church around the role that toxic discrimination of prejudice against African American gay and lesbian congregants has played in addressing HIV and AIDS in the black community. Their combined leadership has kicked open a door that was shut and has enabled a  journey to embracing a more critical view towards inclusion and equality than has ever existed before within the black community.

Bayard Rustin would be proud of this journey to dialogue and to redress that is beginning through the stewardship of the Obamas.

It is this exceptionalism in social justice leadership that Bayard Rustin helped to inspire and create before, during and after The 1963 March on Washington that makes this honor bestowed upon him so poignantly and historically placed.   May Bayard Rustin’s legacy and leadership continue to inspire generations of community organizers and social activists to come.

For more information about the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition visit

Click here to see the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition’s Rally at San Francisco City Hall.