Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) was known for his outspoken nature, valiant and consistent fight for civil rights, and penchant for getting into and advocating for “good trouble”. His long-standing alliance with the LGBTQ community and our own fight for equality found our community standing side by side with the rebellious warrior himself, that walked across that bridge in Selma and found himself arrested over forty times in the 1960’s. His death on July 17th not only leaves a massive hole in the both the past and current fight for racial equality, but it also leaves the LGBTQ without one of it’s fiercest and most outspoken allies.
Lewis’ support for the LGBTQ community could have served as a template for his follow Democrats to follow. He was an early supporter of same sex marriage, before some of his Democratic Party colleagues, as well as before the Supreme Court began legalizing these unions. “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,” he wrote in a Boston Globe editorial piece in 2003. “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.” The final words of Lewis’ editorial ring the most true, even now; “Let us recognize that the gay people living in our house share the same hopes, troubles, and dreams. It’s time we treated them as equals, as family.”
Lewis was the epitome of walking the walk regarding causes that he believed passionately about, and they included the Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity, (which Lewis was a lead sponsor of) and the Respect for Marriage Act, which aimed to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and to legalize same-sex marriage. Lewis also delivered an impassioned speech on the floor of the House against DOMA, which was also featured in the documentary Tying The Knot. In part, Lewis said “This bill is a slap in the face of the Declaration of Independence,” Lewis said at the time. “It denies gay men and women the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Marriage is a basic human right.”
Chad Griffin, former Human Rights Campaign President, released a statement on the loss of Lewis saying in part “John Lewis dedicated his entire lie to fighting racism, and to making this country live up to its promise of equal justice under the law.”. He went on to say “He helped bend the arc of the moral universe-in more ways than one”, ending by saying “My hero died today and it’s on all of us to ensure that the story of John Lewis lives forever”.
Like Elizabeth Taylor and President Barack Obama before him, some of the loudest voices in our LGBTQ atmosphere rise up from our straight allies. They have worked to end pandemics and ushered in a basic equality. In Congressman Lewis’ case, he showcased that even while he walked across that bridge in Selma in an effort to end discrimination for the African American community at the time, he was actually fighting for all of us. So very many of us are simply just realizing it now.
In 2013, John Lewis was arrested while protesting for immigration reform. In 2016, he led a sit-in to end gun violence. In 2017, he spoke powerfully against repealing the ACA.
Here he is last year demanding LGBTQ equality.
John Lewis never stopped fighting for all of us. ✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿 https://t.co/ILOP75wAnH
— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) July 18, 2020
“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.”-Congressman John Lewis