Maryland Considers Naming School After Gay Civil Rights Icon Bayard Rustin

The Montgomery County board of education will vote this week whether to honor the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington.

The board of education in Maryland’s wealthiest county could be voting to name a school after one of the LGBT community's greatest civil rights leaders.

A coalition of 20 LGBT families is pushing the Montgomery County school board to name a new elementary school in Rockville after Bayard Rustin, the pacifist gay civil rights leader who organized the 1963 March on Washington and was a close advisor to Martin Luther King.

Patrick A. Burns/New York Times

2nd February 1964: American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (1912 - 1987), spokesman for the Citywide Committee for Integration, at the organization's headquarters at Silcam Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, New York City. (Photo by Patrick A. Burns/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

“I was shocked to learn that there has never been a school in Maryland named in honor of an openly LGBTQ person!” stay-at-home dad Mark Eckstein Bernardo, who is spearheading efforts to name the school after Rustin, told NewNowNext.

Representatives from GLSEN, the ACLU, the minister of Twinbrook Baptist Church, and a woman who knew Rustin personally, are scheduled to speak Thursday night, when the board will vote. Other nominees for the honor include educators Mary McLeod Bethune and Lillian Brown, abolitionist Emily Catherine Edmonson, and former-slave-turned-preacher Josiah Henson. (Another suggestion was to name the school Dogwood Elementary after trees that populate the neighborhood.)

“My husband and I are very passionate about this,” said Eckstein Bernardo, who is raising 6-year-old twins with husband Lionel Sussman Bernando, “Not only because we are gay parents, but also because we have a first-grader who will be attending this brand new school this fall."

Abbott Sengstacke/Getty

Close-up of American Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin (1912 - 1987) as he speaks at Mason Temple, Church of God, 9 years after Dr. King's murder, Memphis, TN, 1977. Rustin was there with Coretta Scott King, in support of striking workers during the bitter Memphis furniture strike of 1977. (Photo by Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images)

Despite being an integral part of the civil rights movement, Rustin was forced to work behind the scenes for much of his career because of his sexuality, especially after a 1953 arrest for solicitation. Some residents oppose naming the school after Rustin, who died in 1987 at age 75.

“Call me old fashioned, but how on Earth did Bayard Rustin made [sic] it on the list for an elementary school?” wrote Gotthard Saghi-Szabo in a closed Facebook group. “Who is going to explain to our kindergartners [that] Rustin was a gay man who had been arrested throughout his early career for engaging in public sex with white male prostitutes."

Eckstein Bernardo points out that another local school is named for a slave-owner. Other schools in Montgomery County are named for Walt Whitman and Sally Ride, neither of whom were openly gay in their lifetimes.

Rustin received a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 and was the inaugural recipient of the Logo Trailblazers Award in 2015.

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