LGBTQ rights supporters are mourning the less of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights icon who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and died late Friday after a battle with pancreatic cancer at age 80.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Lewis was “a hero and civil rights icon who pushed our country closer to the promise of a more perfect union.”
“Future generations will learn how he faced down discrimination with courage and defiance, boldly challenging the United States to envision a future where every person, no matter their race, sexual orientation or gender identity, has an equal chance at the American Dream,” David said. “His legacy will live on in the work we do every day to further his mission and continue to get into ‘good trouble’ in the name of equality and justice.”
In the 1960s, Lewis was a leader of the Civil Rights Movement, which fought for voting rights for Black Americans and the end to legalized segregation in the United States. Lewis helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, and was the youngest person to speak on the speech from the stage.
Lewis also took part in the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965, when in an event later known as “Bloody Sunday,” Alabama state troopers beat Black demonstrators seeking to register Black Americans to vote after they stopped to pray peacefully.
During his long service as a lawmaker representing Georgia in the U.S. House beginning in 1987, Lewis would describe those events in contemporary tellings as “good trouble” and “necessary trouble.” Former President Barack Obama awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Janson Wu, executive director of the New England-based GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders, said in a statement Lewis’s death “is a tremendous loss at a moment when his moral conviction and clarity are needed perhaps more than ever.”
“But his legacy and vision are alive in a new generation of young leaders pushing today to dismantle the systemic racism and white supremacy that persist within our institutions of power,” Wu said. “His insistence on believing that America could be a country where true justice prevails for everyone is both an inspiration and a challenge to us all to stay engaged in that work.”
Lewis was a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights in Congress, lending his support to the Equality Act, legislation that would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1965 to ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Lewis also was lead sponsor of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, legislation that would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in adoption.
Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal, said in a statement Lewis demonstrated a commitment to LGBTQ people in face of anti-LGBTQ attacks from the Trump administration.
“As an LGBT advocate, John Lewis was not only a champion of marriage equality, but he introduced the Equality Act, a bill to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, credit, education and jury service,” Jennings said. “He has stood with our communities against the recent attacks from the Trump administration that we are fighting in court, including the ban on transgender service members and the anti-transgender health care rule.”
Also recognizing Lewis upon his death was Obama, who said in a statement “America is a constant work in progress” and the civil rights icon recognized the power of ordinary citizens to enact change.
“In so many ways, John’s life was exceptional,” Lewis said. “But he never believed that what he did was more than any citizen of this country might do. He believed that in all of us, there exists the capacity for great courage, a longing to do what’s right, a willingness to love all people, and to extend to them their God-given rights to dignity and respect. And it’s because he saw the best in all of us that he will continue, even in his passing, to serve as a beacon in that long journey towards a more perfect union. “