Community leaders recall Kennedy's impact on equality for LGBT
Community leaders recall Senator Edward 'Ted' Kennedy's impact on equality for LGBT Americans.
Chai Feldblum worked with Senator Kennedy on ENDA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to prohibit discrimination against people with HIV, and the Ryan White CARE Act, to provide needed care to people with HIV.
“The bottom line,” said Feldblum, “was that he was our ‘go-to person’ with anything to do with gay rights. He was that person both because of who he was and the position he held.”
“Our community has had no greater champion in Congress,” said David Smith, who worked as the senator’s Director of Communication from late 2003 to early 2005.
Smith, vice president for programs at the Human Rights Campaign, said credited Kennedy with taking on some of the community’s worst adversaries, including the late Senator Jesse Helms, during its toughest battles.
“From early days of AIDS crisis, he was there for us,” recalled Smith. “He was battling for us, taking on a then very powerful Jesse Helms, who wanted to see us in concentration camps. God only knows what would have happened if Senator Kennedy hadn’t been there.”
Elizabeth Birch, who was HRC president during many of those battles, recalled a “very intense” meeting with Kennedy and staff in which LGBT leaders “talked about the importance of having transgenders included” in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
“He said, ‘We never intended to leave anyone behind and we won’t leave anyone behind’,” said Birch.
“The other hallmark of who he was,” said Birch, “was he supported gay marriage ahead of any of his peers –and, frankly, ahead of people a generation or two behind him in Congress. He was a man who, whenever he hit the limits of something, he would just keep trying.”
Kennedy was one of only 14 senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996. He did not argue for same-sex marriage, but rather against the attack on same-sex marriage.
“We all know what is going on here,” said Kennedy on the Senate floor during the DOMA debate. “I regard this bill as a mean-spirited form of Republican legislative gay-bashing, cynically calculated to try to inflame the public eight weeks before the November 5 election.”
“This bill is designed to divide Americans, to drive a wedge between one group of citizens and the rest of the country, solely for partisan advantage,” said Kennedy. “It is a cynical election year gimmick, and it deserves to be rejected by all who deplore the intolerance and incivility that have come to dominate our national debate.”
As author of ENDA, he led the debate in 1996 when the Senate came within one vote of passing the bill.
“We know that discrimination against gay men and lesbian women exists in this country today, Number 1,” said Kennedy. “Number 2, we know that there are no laws to protect them. Number 3, we know that the whole issue of gay men and lesbian women is an immutable condition. It is a condition of life.
Current HRC President Joe Solmonese released a statement calling Kennedy the “greatest champion and strongest voice for justice, fairness, and compassion.”
“The loss to our community is immeasurable,” he said. “There was no greater hero for advocates of LGBT equality than Senator Ted Kennedy.”
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