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John Conyers, Equality Champion With Complicated Past, Dies at 90

John Conyers

Conyers, who denied the allegations but resigned just the same, was also a longtime advocate of equality for LGBTQ people and others.

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Former U.S. Rep. John Conyers, who died Sunday at age 90, was a champion of civil rights for all, including LGBTQ people -- but he left office under a cloud of sexual harassment accusations, which he strongly denied.

Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, entered Congress in 1965, representing a House district encompassing parts of Detroit, and resigned in 2017, having become the nation's the longest-serving Black congressman. He pushed civil rights legislation for African-Americans, women, and others. In 1983 he introduced the bill to establish a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., and in 1994 he was an advocate for the Violence Against Women Act, CNN notes.

In 1996, he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act even though many of his fellow Democrats supported it, including President Bill Clinton, who signed it into law. DOMA prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and allowed states to deny recognition to those performed in other states. The former section was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013; Conyers had signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief urging such an action.

In 2015, the court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage as well as the remaining provision of DOMA. "In this landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has yet again confirmed that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right to equal protections of the laws," Conyers said when the decision was released. "I applaud this decision recognizing marriage equality as a constitutional right. It affirms the essential role of the Constitution in protecting the right to make our most intimate decisions and upholds our human dignity."

He was a cosponsor of the Equality Act and many other pieces of pro-LGBTQ legislation, and he consistently received high marks on the Human Rights Campaign's Congressional Scorecard.

In 2017, though, a former staff member came forward to say Conyers had fired her because she rejected his sexual advances. He denied that he harassed her, but he did approve the payment of a $27,000 settlement to her. There was an accusation from another woman as well. Conyers denied any wrongdoing, but after bipartisan calls for his resignation, he stepped down in December of that year.

"Congressman Conyers has served in the Congress for more than five decades and shaped some of the most consequential legislation of the last half-century," Nancy Pelosi, then-House minority leader (now speaker) said at the time. "But no matter how great the legacy, it is no license to harass or discriminate. The brave women who came forward were owed the justice of this announcement."

His successor in Congress, Rashida Tlaib, praised Conyers in a memorial tweet Sunday.

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.