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Rep. John Lewis: “You Cannot Separate The Issue Of Civil Rights”

Jim Burroway

January 19th, 2009

In observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday today, Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) appeared on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” to talk about his experiences during the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s. From 1963 to 1966, he chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, during which he became a close associate of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. As he talked about the struggles to achieve basic voting rights for African-Americans, he also reflected on the importance of fighting for civil rights for everyone, including LGBT people:

Terry Gross: (At the 22:00 mark) I want to quote something that you wrote in an op-ed piece in October of 003, and this was about gay rights and the right for gay people to marry. You wrote, “I have fought too hard and for 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.” …I’ve heard some African-American leaders say that it’s wrong to make a connection between the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement because discrimination against African-Americans and discrimination against gays are completely different things. And being gay and being black are completely different things. What’s your take on that?

Rep. Lewis: Well, I do not buy that argument. I do not buy that argument. And today I think more than ever before, we have to speak up and speak out to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. Dr. King used to say when people talked about blacks and whites falling in love and getting married — you know one time in the state of Virginia, in my native state of Alabama, in Georgia and other parts of the South, blacks and whites could not fall in love and get married. And Dr. King took a simple argument and said races don’t fall in love and get married. Individuals fall in love and get married. It’s not the business of the federal government, it’s not the business of the state government to tell two individuals that they cannot fall in love and get married. And so I go back to what I said and wrote those lines a few years ago, that I fought too long and too hard against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up and fight and speak out against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

And you hear people “defending marriage.” Gay marriage is not a threat to heterosexual marriage. It is time for us to put that argument behind us.

You cannot separate the issue of civil rights. It is one of those absolute, immutable principles. You’ve got to have not just civil rights for some, but civil rights for all of us.

Terry Gross: And when you say not civil rights for some, you even mean civil rights for African-Americans and for gay people too?

Rep. Lewis: Not just civil rights for African-Americans or other minorities, but civil rights also for gay people.



January 19th, 2009 | LINK

Bless him.

January 19th, 2009 | LINK

Thank God.

I believe our time is coming soon. There is a powerful grass roots movement arising in this country. Straight Americans of conscience are joining with their fellow Americans in the GLBT community, refusing to be silent on this issue. Whether they have always believed this way, or have recently changed their minds, they are speaking up on behalf of the civil rights of their fellow citizens.

It’s a beautiful thing to see. And, I have faith that it will be successful.

David C.
January 19th, 2009 | LINK

The pendulum has begun its inexorable swing back.

Larry in Miami
January 20th, 2009 | LINK

I heard the interview “live,” as first broadcast… It was amazing in EVERY way.. I was reminded of the horrors of how Blacks were treated then, and, I was brought to tears by Representative Lewis’ inclusion of OUR struggle in the TOTAL movement toward freedom and EQUALITY UNDER THE LAW, for ALL. Please, also remember (as their have been several posts on “our” blogs lately), how Dr. and Mrs. King ALSO considered OUR struggle to be important.

I always remind people, though blacks have endured unspeakable terrors, they never had to lie about “not” being BLACK! (acknowledgements to gay blacks.)

I remember a joke from 1983 or so, when only gay men and Haitians got AIDS: “What is the most difficult part of having AIDS? answer: Having to admit to your parents that you are….. HAITIAN!

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