Guest column: Remembering Civil Rights leader and LGBT advocate Julian Bond

By : Susan Clary
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SusanClary

Susan Clary

If you are involved in fighting for equality and speaking out against injustice, you may cross paths with well-known leaders in the Civil Rights Movement. Many of them travel to cities to inspire younger generations and teach history through their speeches.

Meeting contemporaries of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. provides an opportunity to glean wisdom from their struggles. When I heard Julian Bond would be at the NAACP National Convention in Orlando two years ago, I jumped at the chance to cover it for Watermark.

A year earlier, the NAACP board passed a resolution to endorse same-sex marriage, despite opposition from some church leaders. It occurred a week after President Obama announced his support. Bond, who was an ardent advocate of the Gay Rights Movement, said the vote debunked the myth that the black community is uncomfortable with same-sex marriage. Though there are still many blacks who don’t support it.

The five-day convention featured established and emerging civil rights leaders, elected officials and faith-based leaders. Panels covered voter suppression, the school to prison pipeline, curbing gun violence and equal access to education, health care and economic opportunity.

Bond was scheduled to lead two panels, one on LGBT rights and the other on gay marriage. I found out later that both were scheduled at his insistence. Bond, a former president of both the NAACP and the Southern Poverty Law Center, served four terms in the Georgia House and six terms in the Georgia Senate. In 1968, he became the first black man proposed as a vice presidential nominee at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. He declined because, at 28, he was below the constitutional age for the office.

Born in Nashville, he grew up sheltered from much of the racism in the South. In college, he found he had the charisma to lead and founded the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, organizing voter registration drives and supporting voting-rights laws in the 1960s. It was one of the most influential civil rights organizations of the 1960s. He put aside a journalism career.

Upon meeting this giant of the Civil Rights Movement, I expected a proud and impassioned man with a fiery spirit. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Bond, tall in stature, was a gentle intellectual. He was mostly quiet and reserved. He chose his words carefully, and he demanded respect.

His support for LGBT rights and gay marriage were clear. He was unapologetic. One of his famous oft-repeated lines was “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.” While other black leaders endorsed gay marriage, Bond was one of the few who traveled to states like Minnesota, California and North Carolina, to protest where ballot initiatives aimed at banning gay marriage.

That day in Orlando was no different. The ministers Bond assembled for the panel represented various small and large black churches around the country. The audience could not match their knowledge of religious teachings. Bond challenged each and every audience member who stood to speak against gay marriage or ask a question whose answer seemed predetermined in scripture. He was articulate without being condescending. His courage was evident. He spoke the truth.

Few audience members knew, not only was Bond an atheist, but he was closer to understanding the struggle of gay marriage than most black leaders. Bond’s wife of the last 25 years, Pamela Sue Horwitz, is white. In his talk, he brought up the Supreme Court decision in 1967’s Loving v. Virginia case, which struck down bans on interracial marriage.

Less than 50 years ago, marriage between two people of different races was not legal in every state. Being in an interracial marriage was something I shared with Bond. I am grateful to have met him. We were lucky to have him on our side in the fight for gay marriage and equality.

Sadly, Bond died on August 15 as his vacation home in Fort Walton Beach after a brief illness. He was 75. Bond’s ashes will be spread in the Gulf of Mexico at 3 p.m. EST Saturday, August 22 in a private ceremony. His family invites the community to gather at a body of water nearby to spread flower petals on the water in his memory.

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