Civil Rights Champion Edward Kennedy Passes at 77

Senator Ted Kennedy leaves lasting legacy

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community lost one of our fiercest advocates in the United States Senate when, on August 25, Edward Moore Kennedy succumbed to brain cancer after a yearlong battle. He was 77.

The following day, flags flew at half-staff on
all federal buildings as the world remembered one of the most influential political leaders of our era, and the federal Senator with the third longest career in U.S. history.

President Barack Obama joined political leaders from around the world in saluting Senator Kennedy’s vision and accomplishments in the federal legislative arena. “For his family he was a guardian,” the president said in a statement shortly after the senator’s death, “For America, he was a defender of a dream.”

Ted Kennedy’s death, almost two weeks after that of his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and decades after those of his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy, marked the end of a family dynasty that worked tirelessly for civil rights.

During his nearly 47 years in the Senate, Kennedy actively promoted landmark legislation, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, health insurance for children from working-class backgrounds and Medicare drug benefits for the elderly.
Kennedy also advocated for LGBT equality. He helped pass the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, the country’s largest federally funded program for people living with HIV /AIDS. He strongly opposed both Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, even in the early stages when the bills were first introduced.

Joe Solomonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a press release that “the loss to our community is immeasurable.  There was no greater hero for advocates of LGBT equality than Senator Ted Kennedy.”

Most recently, Kennedy sponsored the introduction of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the only such federal act that is transgender-inclusive. If passed, ENDA would make workplace discrimination on the basis of gender, sexuality, gender identity and gender expression illegal.

“The American people believe that people ought to be able to have a job based upon their ability, based on their character, based on their willingness to do a job, and that ought to be the only criteria,” Senator Ted Kennedy said at an HRC gala in 2008, “That’s effectively what the ENDA does. That’s an American value, my friends.”

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