The nation mourns the loss of civil rights icon, American hero, and staunch LGBTQ ally, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who died on Friday at 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Wrote President Barack Obama as part of a statement on Lewis’s passing: “America is a constant work in progress. What gives each new generation purpose is to take up the unfinished work of the last and carry it further – to speak out for what’s right, to challenge an unjust status quo, and to imagine a better world. John Lewis – one of the original Freedom Riders, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Member of Congress representing the people of Georgia for 33 years – not only assumed that responsibility, he made it his life’s work. He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution examined Lewis’s early and staunch support for gay rights: “Lewis supported same-sex marriage in the early 2000s, years before many fellow African Americans and Democrats embraced the issue, and more than a decade prior to the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing the unions. Lewis compared the struggle for the equal treatment of LGBTQ people to his work on the front lines of the civil rights movement in an October 2003 Boston Globe editorial.”
Wrote Lewis in that editorial: “We cannot keep turning our backs on gay and lesbian Americans. I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation. I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”
“Some say let’s choose another route and give gay folks some legal rights but call it something other than marriage,” Lewis continued. “We have been down that road before in this country. Separate is not equal. The rights to liberty and happiness belong to each of us and on the same terms, without regard to either skin color or sexual orientation. Some say they are uncomfortable with the thought of gays and lesbians marrying. But our rights as Americans do not depend on the approval of others. Our rights depend on us being Americans.”
Read his full editorial HERE.
The AJC notes that Lewis lobbied for the Human Rights Campaign during the ’90s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ era, and was one of two Georgia lawmakers who refused to sign the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Lewis also stood out against Georgia’s ban on gay adoption.
Here’s Lewis speaking against DOMA in 1996.
And here’s Lewis speaking out again in 2013, as the Supreme Court weighed marriage equality.
Lewis was the true model of an LGBTQ ally.
Rest in Power.