I have long said I graduated from the Malcolm X school of rhetoric and to
prove it again, I am announcing here and now at the top of my lungs that
Malcolm X was as queer as a three-dollar bill.
I can hear the groans already, but how much clearer can I be? Malcolm X
Now I know there are plenty of black activists out there who will tell me to
shut up already. But Malcolm’s bisexuality has been an open secret for
years, at least since the publication of author Bruce Perry’s acclaimed
1991 biography Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America.
In a controversial essay published in The Guardian last May 19, on what would
have been Malcolm’s 80th birthday, British gay activist Peter Tatchell,
a friend of this column, wrote, “Perry’s book documents Malcolm
X’s many gay experiences. A schoolmate, Bob Bebee, recalls the day they
stumbled on a local boy jerking off. Malcolm, Bebee recalled, ordered the
youth to masturbate him, and subsequently boasted he had given him oral sex.
Later, from the age of 20, Malcolm had sex with men for money—as hinted
at in Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic—and he had at least one sustained
sexual liaison with a man. While living in Flint, Michigan, his roommate
noticed that instead of sleeping in the room they were sharing, Malcolm
sneaked down the hall to spend the night with a gay transvestite named Willie
Tatchell continues, “In New York, two of Malcolm’s friends from
Michigan remember bumping into him at the YMCA, where Malcolm bragged he
earned money servicing ‘queers.’ Later, Malcolm worked as a
butler to a wealthy Boston bachelor, William Paul Lennon. According to
Malcolm’s sidekick Malcolm Jarvis, he was paid to sprinkle Lennon with
talcum powder and bring him to orgasm. Perry suggests that Malcolm’s
gay encounters may not have been entirely financially motivated. His
masculine insecurities and ambivalence towards women fit the archetype of a
repressed gay man and point to latent homosexuality.”
Sure, Malcolm got married and had children. But he’d seen the black
establishment crucify the openly gay activist Bayard Rustin, deputy director
of Dr Martin Luther King’s March on Washington on Aug 28, 1963.
Homophobic congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr demanded that Dr King drop
Rustin lest Powell tell the press that King and Rustin were lovers. So
King—to whom Rustin had taught non-violent protest at the 1956
Montgomery bus boycott—fired Rustin.
Eventually the elder statesman of civil rights A Philip Randolph agreed to
organize the march only if Rustin could work with him, and other civil rights
leaders agreed because they wanted Randolph.
Life would have been a whole lot tougher for Malcolm had the puritanical
Nation of Islam known about his own sexual history and desires. Had he lived,
I believe Malcolm—along with Dr King—would have come to embrace
the gay civil rights movement, just like the late Rosetta Scott King did
after her husband’s assassination.
“For many years now, I have been an outspoken supporter of civil and
human rights for gay and lesbian people,” Rosetta Scott King said in
her keynote speech at the 25th-anniversary luncheon for the US Lambda Legal
Defense and Education Fund in 1998. “Gays and lesbians stood up for
civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, GA and St Augustine, FL, 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.”
Mrs King added, “Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other
forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to
deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood. This sets the stage for
further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the
next minority group.”
I have no doubt that Malcolm X would have added his voice to the growing
chorus supporting gay civil rights.
“We want gay equality,” Malcolm would have demanded, “and
we will get it by any means necessary.” V