The funeral procession for U.S. Rep. John Lewis, an icon of all civil rights movements, stopped at the rainbow crosswalks in a heavily LGBTQ+ Atlanta neighborhood Wednesday in recognition of his support for equality.
The hearse bearing the body of Lewis, who died July 17 at age 80 after suffering from pancreatic cancer, stopped at the crosswalks at 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue in Atlanta’s Midtown area, the city’s oldest gayborhood, on the way to the Georgia state capitol. His body lay in state at the capitol Wednesday, and his funeral was held Thursday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was once led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush were among the speakers. Former President Jimmy Carter was unable to travel to the ceremony but sent a message.
Lewis was best known for his association with the African-American civil rights movement, having famously been attacked by police during a march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama in 1965. But Lewis, a Democrat who represented a Georgia district in Congress since 1987, was a longtime ally of the LGBTQ+ community.
He received mostly perfect ratings from the Human Rights Campaign for his record on LGBTQ+ rights, and he cosponsored and advocated for numerous pro-equality bills. He even gave an impassioned speech in 1996 against the Defense of Marriage Act, the anti-marriage equality bill that passed with support from both Democrats and Republicans. “You cannot tell people they cannot fall in love,” he said, making him one of the few politicians to endorse marriage equality at the time.
A statement on his congressional website reads, “I fought too long and too hard to end discrimination based on race and color, to not stand up against discrimination against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ As your representative in Congress, I work daily to combat injustice and fight for equality. Human rights, civil rights, these are issues of dignity. Every human being walking this Earth, whether gay, lesbian, straight, or transgender, is entitled to the same rights. It is in keeping with America’s promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Just a month before his death, he issued a statement praising the Supreme Court’s ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in banning sex discrimination, also bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. “Today’s Supreme Court Decision restores my hope in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s conviction that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” he said. “Although I am encouraged by this opinion, we all know that much work remains. It is impossible to ignore that deeply rooted structural inequality, xenophobia, and bias continues to permeate our nation, and LGBTQIA+ people of color — especially transgender women — experience violence, discrimination, and socio-economic disparities at alarming rates. As Bayard Rustin, the engineer of the March on Washington reminded us, ‘We are all one, and if we don’t know, we will learn it the hard way.’”
In his eulogy, Obama praised Lewis’s work for equality for all and credited him with inspiring young activists demonstrating against racism and police brutality. After a recent Zoom meeting he and Lewis had with a group of these activists, Obama recalled, “I told him all those young people, John, of every race and every religion, from every background and gender and sexual orientation — John, those are your children.”