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Bernice King’s gay-inclusive speech at MLK rally surprises LGBT participants

By Dyana Bagby
The GA Voice
Monday, January 16, 2012

ATLANTA — Bernice King took the stage today at Atlanta’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. rally and included gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people among the various groups she said need to come together to fulfill her father’s legacy.

In a passionate, sermon-like speech about building unity, King said she didn’t care if people were Hindu, Buddhist, Islamist, were from the North side or the South side, were black or white, were “heterosexual or homosexual, or gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender” — that all people were needed to create unity.

Bernice King. (GA Voice photo by Dyana Bagby.)

LGBT people who attended the rally said they were shocked that King – who has a long anti-gay past — actually acknowledged the community in a public speech, but said they were also glad because it shows people can evolve.

Rev. Maressa Pendermon, a minister with LGBT-inclusive Unity Fellowship Church, said she at first intended to tune out King because of her anti-gay past, but decided to pay attention one more time.

For her father’s vision to be realized we’ve got to come together across boundaries and then she got in preacher mode. Then she said ‘heterosexual or homosexual,’ and then backed up and said ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.’ We need all of us,” Pendermon said.

There’s always room for growth,” Pendermon said, describing her reaction to King’s words. “People grow and people change. Sometimes we don’t let them. I wasn’t expecting that. And I was already ready to shut down but I challenged myself to listen and I’m glad I listened.”

Pendermon and her church were part of a counter protest in 2004 at the same intersection where today’s rally took place. In 2004, King was an elder at Bishop Eddie Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and the two led a march of thousands through the streets of Atlanta to protest, among other issues, gay marriage. She has also said that her father “did not take a bullet for same-sex marriage.”

Craig Washington, a founder of the Bayard Rustin/Audre Lorde breakfast where LGBT activists and allies gather before participating in the MLK march, said he was “surprised and actually excited” by King’s words.

It reminded me that people can and do shift attitudes. They do evolve,” he said. “What Bernice’s turnabout …spoke to is potential to change. We still have to remember they too are human.

I was like, ‘What?’ I clutched pearls. I sure did. I was not prepared to applaud Bernice King today and she gave me something to applaud,” Washington said.

Paulina Helm-Hernandez, the LGBT honorary grand marshal for today’s march and rally, said she also was surprised to hear King’s inclusive words.

“I thought it was great. First time I’ve ever heard her say lesbian, gay, bi and trans out loud,” she said. “She said homosexual at first and then corrected herself. It takes a lot of grace to do something like that when you’re on a roll.”

Whether King was sincere and genuine with her words remains to be seen, Helm-Hernandez said.

“I feel like in coming years that will be telling what she said was genuine. I hope so,” she said.

King was recently named CEO of the King Center after she left New Birth following Eddie Long’s sex scandal in which he was sued by young men who accused him of coercing them into sexual relationships.

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56 more reader comments:

  1. werk!

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:33pm
  2. What a relief. There are some out there who believe Dr. King’s niece, Alveda, speaks for the family. This is wonderful to hear.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:34pm
  3. WOW, that certainly speaks volumes

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:35pm
  4. awesome

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:36pm
  5. Thank you. Thank you for realizing people are still treated as second class citizens

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:36pm
  6. Change happens. Growth happens. Amen.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:38pm
  7. I’m not suprised… she has often said in interviews and speaking engagements that she felt her husband would have continued his work for equal rights for ALL of humankind, not limited to ONE theological interpretation… but in respect to all in this land that is supposed to honor freedom of religion. She has had my utmost respect for years. :^)

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:38pm
  8. <3 this

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:38pm
  9. WOW !!!! …. i AM STUNNED !!!

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:39pm
  10. I’m still holding her at a distance. Based on her terrible gay-bashing history, I need to see more than a few words in a speech to know she’s turned over a new leaf.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:40pm
  11. I’m not getting overly carried away @ this her track record speaks far more than this one speech! we’ll see the follow-up/through!

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:42pm
  12. I don’t know, but this looks promising:)

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:43pm
  13. never doubt the human capacity for change.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:43pm
  14. Stunned is a good word for it!!!

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:44pm
  15. When she starts working with LGBT organizations and actively seeking to show that she has changed, that’s when I’ll start to give. This speech, the context is such that she NEEDS something from the gay community and that’s why she’s included LGBTs in her sermon.

    “I’m sorry. I was wrong and I am committed to showing through my future actions that gay rights are human rights.”

    ^^ That’s what would impress me.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:45pm
  16. thankful for the possibility of change……..

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:48pm
  17. @Jenn, this is Bernice King, Dr. King’s daughter, not Coretta Scott King, his (now deceased) widow. I think you ate confusing Bernice with her mother.

    Mrs. King was a gay rights supporter.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:49pm
  18. Hmm, not that I am a cynic or suspicious or anything but I have to ask: What’s in it for her … what has changed to force her to change because you know that she did not do it willingly?

    Has she been haunted by the spirits of MLK-Day Past, Present, and Future?

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:51pm
  19. is it bad that id like to know why she came over to our side all of a sudden?

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:51pm
  20. I really hope she follows in the path of support like her mother, father, and older sister. Not her hypocrite cousin, though.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:51pm
  21. @Wide Receiver

    I wouldn’t be surprised that she’ll be coming out soon. None of the King children married aside from MLK Jr., and that was “in secret”.

    Plus, since she’s left New Birth after the Eddie Long scandal that really has me thinking she’ll be coming out soon.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:55pm
  22. i’d say

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:56pm
  23. Thankful.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 7:57pm
  24. Very cool

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8:03pm
  25. i would hope she walks the talk.or maybe she has realized that people who are gay and lesbian are treated the same way that people of different color are and were treated.just a thought

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8:05pm
  26. or someone close to her came out and she realizes how victimizing she was in the past.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8:08pm
  27. cool.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8:08pm
  28. Glad she has opened her mind. So glad to hear.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8:08pm
  29. Finally

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8:12pm
  30. bernice said and i just hope everyone votes this election

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8:15pm
  31. Education and civil rights (marriage included) for all!!!

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8:24pm
  32. That is amazing.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8:27pm
  33. seems the dream went further than we thought!

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8:30pm
  34. This is his daughter, not his wife…

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 8:33pm
  35. Thank you Bernice. Thank you Bayard Ruskin. Thank you Julian Bond.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 9:02pm
  36. i’m not sure why that should surprise anyone. Corretta Scott King spoke often in favor of LGBT rights.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 9:49pm
  37. That bitch did a lot of damage. She will have to prove herself before I give her chance.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 9:57pm
  38. Bravo!

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 10:15pm
  39. Wow this actually made me tear up, happy tears of course.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 10:24pm
  40. @Andi — it is because she has a history of being a bitter gay-bashing homophobe. Her mother was pro gay rights but Bernice has always been against gays. The woman marched through the streets of Atlanta to stand against gay marriage!

    I’m curious why are you not surprised that she seems to be shifting.

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 10:27pm
  41. “She should renounce the anti-gay bigotry of her recent past. That bigotry was on shameful and insulting display in December 2004 when she and thousands of marchers stood at the gravesite of her father, Martin Luther King, Jr., and denounced gay marriage. The implication was that King might well have stood with her and them in their protest against gay rights.”

    http://thedailyvoice.com/voice/2009/11/bernice-king-should-publicly-r-002367.php

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 10:31pm
  42. no, MLK’s wife, the late Coretta Scott King – said those things. She has said that gay rights are civil rights since 1968. Their daughter Bernice however, has been a vocal opponent to gay rights – until now it seems. To which I say Thank you God and Amen!

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 11:47pm
  43. it surprises a LOT of us – because despite her mother’s stand – Bernice has been vocally against gay rights for a LONG time! Seems she is having a change of heart – praise the Lord!

    Posted on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 11:49pm
  44. things come full circle the worst effected by isms are glbt people of color alanta is the gay capital of the world-gaylanta

    Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 2:30am
  45. I wanted to see a video of this… :(

    Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 6:28am
  46. You mean her father?

    Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 6:41am
  47. I think he wanted to include all people so we should start doing it now.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 7:13am
  48. Hopefully her thinking has evolved and she’s no longer a bigot.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 7:38am
  49. Great: Bernice King took the stage today at Atlanta’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. rally and included gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people among the various groups she said need to come together to fulfill her father’s legacy. And thanks Bernice King! http://www.langdonart.com

    Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 8:19am
  50. I think it is very unfortunate that people have to shape their comments to make others happy. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was a gospel preacher and the Bible very clearly does not support same sex sexual relationships or marriage. Bernice is right that in that it takes everyone to bring unity… that is the point… not supporting a particular group. Be Blessed.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 8:44am
  51. I am not surprised. Bernice attended Bishop Eddie Long’s school of Truth and Deceit. She is a graduate now. Congrats.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 12:09pm
  52. I agree with AyJay Powell I simply don’t trust this gal. She has far too many years speaking out against the GLBT community. Can’t help but wonder if she’s thinking of going into politics in the near future and maybe this is a smokescreen. Ya never know ..

    Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 1:14pm
  53. She has evolved undoubtedly…Sitting under the deceitful Bishop Eddie Long for all those years no doubt helped her in the evolution process. She also referenced other religions besides Christianity and that in and of itself is definitely a BIG sign of change.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 2:39pm
  54. Wonderful! I saw her speak back in August and I was in awe of her and her voice gave me chills because she sounded so much like her father. I have other thoughts and observations that day as I watched her off stage. I agree with some of the other posts. I really think she is a lesbian.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 6:12pm
  55. I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt because I think good people who have indulged in prejudiced behaviour, through ignorance, in the past can overcome their prejudices and often do change. If she goes back on this in her future statements or actions than some of our community’s hesitancy in believing her or trusting her will be correct, but somehow I don’t think that will be the case.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 11:35pm
  56. Wow! NuWine Press – the all inclusive and lgbt-affirming voice of independent Christian publishing is glad to hear that inclusivity is creeping into the African-American religious community. May this be the beginning of great things!

    Posted on Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 11:37am