Oracle employees shine spotlight on unsung African American LGBTQ+ hero

June 15, 2022 | 4 minute read
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Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin had a dream, too.

It lived at the intersection of the Black and gay communities. Rustin, chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his most famous speech, dreamed of a society where people weren’t judged by their race, gender, or sexual identity.

As a gay Black man, however, he faced steeper hurdles than most. He was often forced to work behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement. As a result, most people are unfamiliar with his storied legacy.

But the Oracle Pride Employee Network (OPEN) is doing its part to fix that. In recognition of Pride Month 2022, OPEN partnered with Oracle’s Alliance of Black Leaders for Excellence (ABLE) to host a virtual event exploring how Rustin helped change the fabric of American culture.

Center stage, finally

OPEN member Shane Landrum shared Rustin’s life and career, reprising a presentation he gave to the ABLE hub in Burlington, MA, during Black History Month. Bringing the Zoom event back during Pride Month is another chance to explore Rustin’s historical achievements and his intersectional identity.

Landrum highlighted Rustin’s early civil rights efforts in the 1930s, his collaboration with labor leader A. Philip Randolph in the 1940s, his conscientious objections to World War II, and Rustin’s work with King and others to advance Black rights in the 1950s and ’60s. When the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, AL, unfolded, Rustin, a Quaker pacificist, mentored King in the use of nonviolence to further the cause of integration.

“What stuck in my mind was how the historical information was there, but I had never been exposed to it.”
—Aleena Williams, Community Lead, ABLE, Burlington, MA

“Most people don’t realize that the March on Washington was organized by a proudly gay man,” says Landrum, who earned a PhD in American History and taught the subject before joining Oracle. “His refusal to hide himself as a gay man in the Civil Rights Movement made him vulnerable during a time of incredible homophobia. He was perceived as a publicity risk to people who were already under FBI surveillance.”

Aleena Williams, ABLE’s Burlington community lead, had not heard of Rustin before publicizing Landrum’s presentation. “What stuck in my mind was how the historical information was there, but I had never been exposed to it.”

Allies in social justice

After the movement Rustin helped to lead won major victories in the 1960s—notably the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which guaranteed equal employment and integrated public facilities, plus the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968—he turned his attention late in life to the fight for gay rights.

In an interview with the Washington Blade, Rustin recalled how his dual identity and his toils in the Civil Rights Movement drove him to be upfront about his sexual orientation. Staying the closet, especially as an important figure, would have amounted to “aiding and abetting the prejudice that was a part of the effort to destroy me.”

Landrum notes that the movements for Black and gay civil rights reinforced each other, and still do. “When you look at the ways oppression affects people, it’s not just on one axis. Someone can be privileged in one way and oppressed in another, so that’s important to keep in mind when trying to solve problems of social justice. Whether or not we think they are, the ways in which one group of people suffers trickles down to another group.”

Williams agrees. “Pretty much everyone can identify with more than one piece of themselves, whether it’s being Black and gay, or Black and a woman, or other parts of their identities. The more we talk about it and understand it, the better we can understand ourselves and have healthier relationships.”

She adds that collaborations between employee resource groups (ERGs), such as OPEN and ABLE are a good way to stoke the conversation. Workplace discussions of intertwined social issues remind employees that the world in all its complexities “doesn’t go away when we turn on our laptops.”

Landrum points to another way employees can make a difference: the matching funds, Oracle gives for charitable donations to support nonprofits. “If people who have power, including financial power, don’t work to make change, change is never going to happen.”

Photography: Robert Elfstrom/Villon Films via Getty Images

Mark Jackley

Mark Jackley is an Oracle digital content specialist.

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