What would Martin Luther King Jr think of the LGBT rights movement?

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.

What would Dr King think of LGBT people?

According to a transcript released by Stanford University, a teenage boy had asked: “My problem is different from the ones most people have.

“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.”

Former US President Barack Obama has previously cited progress on gay rights while paying tribute to Martin Luther King – though other members of King’s wider family have come out against same-sex marriage.

Martin Luther King’s niece Alveda King previously claimed: “It’s impossible to marry two men to each other or two women, it’s just not possible.

“The two cannot become one. It is biologically impossible, scientifically impossible, emotionally impossible, definitely spiritually impossible.

“You can actually hold a gun, Heaven forbid, and say, ‘do this marriage,’ now he or she may say, ‘okay,’ or they may say, ‘I won’t,’ but even if they speak the words, it is not possible, it is impossible. We have to be able to articulate that on all the levels we just said: spiritual, physical, science.”

President Obama said: “[Dr King’s work] teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate.

“But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We’ll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago.

“And I believe that spirit is there, that truth force inside each of us. I see it when a white mother recognizes her own daughter in the face of a poor black child. I see it when the black youth thinks of his own grandfather in the dignified steps of an elderly white man.

“It’s there when the native-born recognizing that striving spirit of the new immigrant; when the interracial couple connects the pain of a gay couple who are discriminated against and understands it as their own.

That’s where courage comes from — when we turn not from each other, or on each other, but towards one another, and we find that we do not walk alone. That’s where courage comes from.”