The fight for LGBT equality has had many heroes, some known, many more unknown. They are individuals who have devoted their lives and risked so much for the pursuit of a nation that is more just and more equal. But our collective movement has had few heroes like Julian Bond.
Julian Bond's commitment to equality, his pursuit of justice for all, and his pointed criticism of those who would permit discrimination in any form made him an icon, a hero, and a legend.
His legacy was cemented long before he decided to speak out on issues of importance to LGBT Americans. He stood up against white supremacy; he battled for his right to speak freely in the Georgia state legislature — an issue that was finally settled by the U.S. Supreme Court — where he served the people of Georgia for 20 years. His devotion to equality took him from his roots in Tennessee to helping establish the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, chairing the NAACP for more than a decade, and serving as the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. In short, he didn't have to fight for LGBT equality. But he did, and he became our champion.
Julian spent his entire life standing up for the equal rights of each and every person. And throughout it all, he was a champion of the rights of LGBT people, blazing a trail for others to follow. In the years I got to know Julian, I discovered a man whose generosity had no bounds. There was no ask too big or too small for Julian. His voice was instrumental in helping to secure support for marriage equality, and he was an early supporter of the federal court challenge to California’s Proposition 8. He joined HRC’s Americans for Marriage Equality public education campaign in 2011. A few years later, he wrote “LGBT rights Are Human Rights” on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Throughout the first half of this year, he wrote multiple opinion pieces in support of LGBT equality, including those that highlighted the need for equal treatment in the South and opposed anti-LGBT religious refusal legislation in state legislatures.
When discussing the need for comprehensive federal LGBT nondiscrimination protections earlier this year and our path forward to securing them, Julian looked at me and very quickly said, “Why wouldn’t you just amend the existing civil rights laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity?” Several months later, we’re attempting to do just that with the Equality Act, and Julian came out in strong support of those efforts. He was one of the boldest champions our cause has ever known.
The last time I saw Julian and his wife, Pamela Horowitz — his partner in the fight for equality — was at the U.S. Supreme Court during oral arguments in the marriage equality case, Obergefell v. Hodges. We were in the courtroom as the justices considered the case that would ultimately bring marriage equality to all 50 states. We waited together in line outside and inside for hours. It might just have been a few of the most memorable hours of my life, and Julian emailed me later to express what a profound moment it was for him and Pam.
It's rare in life to get to know one of your heroes. Julian is one of mine. I not only looked up to Julian, I had the great honor and privilege of meeting him, learning from him, and working with him. And for that, I am forever grateful.
When it came to equality, Julian was not a patient man. He knew our work was far from over. Quoting Frederick Douglass, his greatest advice was to organize and to agitate. There are very few throughout human history who have embodied the ideals of honor, dignity, courage, and friendship quite like Julian Bond. Future generations will look back on his life and legacy and see a warrior for good who helped conquer hate in the name of love. For the LGBT movement, we have lost a champion. For our country, we have lost a true American hero. But despite the fact that so much work remains ahead for our great nation, the legacy Julian Bond has left us is of a world that is far more just and far more equal because of him.
CHAD GRIFFIN is president of the Human Rights Campaign.