…we will learn it the hard way.’
This is a quote from the US Civil Rights and peace activist Bayard Rustin. They were the final words of a documentary film about Rustin’s life and work shown at Imperial in Black History Month. Rustin conceived and organised the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech.
There is another dimension to this quote – Rustin was also openly gay. And the film night was hosted by ‘Imperial as One’ and ‘Imperial 600’ – the networks for Black and Minority Ethnic staff and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered staff.
After the film there was a short talk about countering racism and homophobia from Dr Rob Berkely, the director of the Runnymede Trust. Rob described himself as an openly gay black man, adding that as a racial justice campaigner, ‘I have no choice, I live my job’.
To me it’s seems an important moment when these two networks promoting equality for BME and LGBT staff can work together. I know that for some this is not an easy partnership. And religion is one of the reasons for this discomfort.
Yet, under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal to discriminate against a person on grounds of their religion, just as it is on grounds of sexual orientation. (The other ‘protected characteristics’ are gender, disability, race, age and pregnancy).
The UN Declaration on Human Rights argues that human rights are ‘indivisible’ and ‘interdependent’. They should not be implemented selectively, and an attack on one affects the others. Clearly, more dialogue and trust is needed where these rights appear to clash. This is a dialogue that Chaplaincy is willing to facilitate and support.
The last word – and a repeated warning – on the need to overcome these apparent conflicts between different human rights needs to go to the amazing and inspiring Bayard Rustin – musician, pacifist, civil rights, peace and union rights campaigner.
‘We are all one, and if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way’.