Bay Area Reporter
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Gays mourn death of Coretta King

LGBT leaders were swift to mourn the death this week of Coretta Scott King, a powerful and historical icon in the human rights movement who was universally acknowledged as the "first lady of the civil rights movement."

Mrs. King, the widow of assassinated civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a tireless and increasingly vocal advocate for gay equality in recent years, died Monday, January 30 in a holistic hospital in Mexico, south of San Diego, at the age of 78. She had suffered a serious stroke and heart attack late in 2005.

Mrs. King made a brief public appearance on television last month during an event marking Martin Luther King Day.

"Today our nation mourns the loss of another courageous leader," said Jasmyne Cannick, co-chair, Stonewall Democrats Black Caucus. "Coretta Scott King was more than Dr. Martin Luther King's wife: she was her own her person in her own right. Mrs. King stood for justice, equality, and global human rights for everyone. Black or non-black, gay or straight, Mrs. King dedicated her life to love, justice, equality, and global human rights and for that we are truly grateful.

"Today is a sad day for the world, but we can honor her memory and her husband's dream by using their lives as an example and by making the promise of freedom, equality and opportunity real for all people," Cannick added.

"Standing behind a great movement was a grand woman who shouldered the hopes of our American dream," said Eric Stern, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats. "Returning to Memphis five days after the assassination of her husband to demand justice for working families, Coretta Scott King continued her advocacy for the expansion of liberty embodied by their partnership. Mrs. King argued that our nation would not fulfill its promise unless all Americans, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens, were afforded equal treatment under the law."

Mrs. King's death prompted statements from gay groups across the political spectrum.

"Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to Coretta Scott King," said Log Cabin Republicans President Patrick Guerriero. "The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King will carry on for generations. Their work, advancing the cause of equality and human rights, has made our nation and our world a much better place. Gay and lesbian people have been fortunate to have Coretta Scott King standing with us as we fight to achieve equality. Her memory will motivate our work in the future, as we strive to build a nation where no one faces discrimination for any reason. Her legacy will march with us as we continue fighting to achieve fairness and justice for all."

"All of us who aspire to live without prejudice or limits owe a very large debt to Mrs. King," said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "She was what Virginia Woolf once called that rare combination of 'granite and rainbow,' at once an immovable legacy on which we all stood and a luminous reminder of the arc waiting just behind the rain. A tireless advocate for equality, she leaves us both her own work and the work we must all yet do."

Born April 27, 1927, in Perry County, Alabama, she married Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in 1953.

In 1963, already a major architect of the emerging civil rights movement, her husband seized the consciousness of the nation with his stirring "I Have A Dream" speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial. Less than five years later, on April 4, 1968, he was dead.

But his dream of universal tolerance lived on in the movement and Mrs. King remained at the forefront to honor his memory, carry on the movement, and challenge those – even members of her own family – who would have turned his dream of spiritual unity into a theological message of intolerance for those damned in the nightmare of homophobia.

Little more than a year ago, Martin Luther and Coretta Scott's daughter, the Reverend Bernice King, spoke in favor of a constitutional ban against same-sex unions and said her father would not have supported gay marriage. But her mother had already publicly settled that score a decade earlier and was an outspoken strong supporter of gay rights and the fight against AIDS.

"In her life, Mrs. King contributed to her community through countless roles, from fearless trailblazer in the global human rights struggle to widow, mother, and bedrock for a family that has sacrificed so much in the name of justice," Phill Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute, said in a statement issued Tuesday. "In the years since Dr. King's passing, she has continued to carry forth and build upon his mission of creating a truly just society. Mrs. King boldly framed our fight against the forces that fuel the AIDS epidemic as part of that mission. That is why she was among the first heroes in the struggle the institute honored. She contributed her voice to our campaigns time and again – and to countless other efforts to help black America save itself from this scourge. Whether it was poverty or homophobia, Mrs. King bravely urged us to open our arms and hearts so that we may truly be our brothers' and sisters' keepers."

In 1997, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force honored Mrs. King. "From the beginning, Mrs. King understood that homophobia is hate, and hate has no place in the beloved community that she and Dr. King envisioned for our nation and our world," said Matt Foreman, executive director.

Thirty years after her husband's assassination, King spoke at the 25th anniversary luncheon for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in 1998, saying, "For many years now, I have been an outspoken supporter of civil and human rights for gay and lesbian people. Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Georgia, and St. Augustine, Florida, and many other campaigns of the civil rights movement. Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions."

In 2004, while her daughter was drumming up opposition to gay marriage, Mrs. King said, "Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages."