Today marks Martin Luther King Jr Day, celebrated by rights activists across the world as the birthday of the American hero.
Dr King often advocated for the rights of everyday people – but his thoughts on homosexuality are less well preserved.
One of the only documented records of the civil rights hero discussing homosexuality was in advice column for Ebony Magazine back in 1958 – while the US government was still openly discriminating against LGBT people, and homosexuality was a crime.
“I am a boy, but I feel about boys the way I ought to feel about girls. I don’t want my parents to know about me. What can I do? Is there any place where I can go for help?”
Though Dr King’s response may seem ill-informed by modern standards, his advice to the boy is remarkably calm and polite, given the fears and active scaremongering about gay people at the time.
Dr King responded: “Your problem is not at all an uncommon one. However, it does require careful attention. The type of feeling that you have toward boys is probably not an innate tendency, but something that has been culturally acquired.”
He continued: “In order to do this I would suggest that you see a good psychiatrist who can assist you in bringing to the forefront of conscience all of those experiences and circumstances that lead to the habit.”
The rights activist was tragically assassinated in 1968, one year before the Stonewall riots birthed the gay rights movement – so we will never know his true considered feelings on the matter.
But Dr King’s wife Coretta Scott King carried on his work, and dedicated her life to fighting for LGBT rights alongside civil rights – believing that he would have done exactly the same.
As early as 1983, Mrs King was urging for gays and lesbians to be protected from discrimination – and she remained ahead of her time until her death in 2006.
She backed same-sex marriage in 2004, declaring it a civil rights issue, before adding that her late husband would have also been in favour.
Mrs King told gay rights activists at the time: “I’m proud to stand with all of you, as your sister, in a great new American coalition for freedom and human rights.
“With this faith and this commitment we will create the beloved community of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, where all people can live together in a spirit of trust and understanding, harmony, love and peace.”