This article was published on August 11th, 2020
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are in mourning after the passing of Representative John Lewis, the Democrat from Georgia that worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 60s for civil rights. An icon in his own right, Lewis succumbed to pancreatic cancer on July 17th at the age of 80.
While John Lewis was considered one of the foremost figures in the civil rights movement, his stance on gay rights were progressive and he endorsed same-sex marriage long before it became popular.
“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.”
In the early 2000s, Lewis supported gay marriage before many African-Americans or even liberal Democrats supported the measure, and over a decade before the United States Supreme Court began legalizing gay unions. In fact, he openly defied most lawmakers at the time, with most religious and elected officials openly opposing gay marriage or refusing to support such measures.
But John Lewis was always considered ahead of his time, with his tireless dedication to the civil rights movement unparalleled in modern American history. After putting his life on the line in the 60s to advance the liberties of Black Americans, Lewis expanded his ideology to include support of LGBTQ+ members and he sponsored over a dozen bills across his career that provided protections to the community.
One of the most important bills Lewis spearheaded was the Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual or gender equality. He also introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, which aimed to repeal DOMA (Defense Of Marriage Act) and legalize marriage between same-sex couples. Upon the legalization of same-sex marriages in 2015, Lewis issued a statement:
“As a nation, we cannot say we are committed to equality, if we do not mandate equality for every citizen. You cannot have equality for some in America and not equality for all. This is another major step down a very long road toward the realization of a fair and just society. We should embrace the decision of the United States Supreme Court. It is now the law of the land.”
Same-sex couples also had faced uphill battles adopting children and John Lewis sponsored the Every Child Deserves A Family Act to prohibit adoption agencies from discriminating against potential adoptive parents based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. At the time, Lewis stated, “Too many children dream of a stable, loving family. Many adults want to open their homes and their hearts, but they also are facing more and more barriers, because some officials can say they practice the wrong religion, love the wrong person, or are not married.”
In 2016 after the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, Lewis led a congressional sit-in against gun violence in recognition of the LGBTQ+ members killed. More recently, Lewis had been vehemently opposed to the Trump administration and their attempts to dismantle many of the protections and laws for LGBTQ+ members, in particular transgender individuals. When Trump attempted to revise the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) to deny transgender people service, Lewis issued a strong rebuke.
John Lewis left a legacy that challenged future generations to fight for a future where everyone was guaranteed access to the American dream. His tireless dedication and strength in the face of adversity and his mission to embrace ‘good trouble’ will remain the cornerstone to how he is remembered.