We knew the end was near when Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy could not make it to the funeral of his beloved sister Eunice Shriver. His 15-month battle with brain cancer ended inevitably, and the beacon of hope for millions that defined Ted Kennedy’s career had been extinguished by this treacherous disease.
Ted Kennedy didn’t suffer a tragic death in a manner that took the lives of his three brothers, but his death at the age of 77 on August 26 was still a tearful tragedy and a loss that burrows deep into the soul of the nation.
Senator Kennedy was a steadfast advocate for the powerless during his nearly half-century of service to the country. His was a voice that rose above the others, and he was unequivocal in his passion and authenticity.
Regardless of how one viewed Sen. Kennedy’s positions on issues, he garnered reverence and affection from all sides of the political spectrum. As a senator, he made use of his innate leadership ability to venture into the tricky terrain of bipartisanship and craft significant legislation that earned him the reputation for being among the most prolific, influential lawmakers in our nation’s history. The moniker "Lion" was appropriately applied, as it reflected the power this iconic senator amassed and the respect he had accrued.
For the LGBT community, we would be hard pressed to find a superior, more consistent champion for equal rights, fairness and justice. Sen. Kennedy’s support for equality for the lgbt community was immutable. He spearheaded key legislation, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act and publicly opposed discriminatory measures including the Defense of Marriage Act and the Federal Marriage Amendment. He also fought against the codification of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" in 1993 and has vigorously opposed it since.
From the early days of AIDS to the current struggle for marriage equality, Sen. Ted Kennedy has been our hero, our protector. A fierce civil rights advocate for all Americans, he saw the fight for LGBT rights as part of the overall battle.
On the most basic anti-discrimination legislation currently in play—ENDA—Senator Kennedy said two years ago, "America stands for justice for all. Congress must make clear that when we say ‘all’ we mean all. America will never be America until we do."
Was Ted Kennedy a perfect man? Of course, not. Who is? But the goodness of his heart, his conscience, his relentless push for social justice, and his countless contributions to society against the backdrop of the tragedies that were wrought upon his family clearly outweigh his flaws.
I salute Ted Kennedy as a great American and champion for the underdog, and mourn his loss, not just for our community but for humanity in general. Rest in peace, good friend; the Lion sleeps tonight.