Earlier this week there was an excellent interview on NPR with civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis—podcast here and rough transcript here—that fell by the wayside in all the wall-to-wall inauguration coverage. Lewis slams anti-gay pastors in the black church and so-called "civil rights leaders" who say gay rights are not civil rights. "I fought too hard and for too long against discrimination based on race and color," Lewis tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "Not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation."
GROSS: I’ve heard some African-American leaders say that it’s wrong to make a connection between the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement because discrimination against African-Americans and discrimination against gays are completely different things. And being gay and being black are completely different things. What’s your take on that?
LEWIS: I do not buy that argument. And today I think more than ever before, we have to speak up and speak out to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. Dr. King used to say when people talked about blacks and whites falling in love and getting married—you know one time in the state of Virginia, in my native state of Alabama, in Georgia and other parts of the South, blacks and whites could not fall in love and get married. And Dr. King took a simple argument and said races don’t fall in love and get married. Individuals fall in love and get married. It’s not the business of the federal government, it’s not the business of the state government to tell two individuals that they cannot fall in love and get married. And so I go back to what I said and wrote those lines a few years ago, that I fought too long and too hard against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up and fight and speak out against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
And you hear people "defending marriage." Gay marriage is not a threat to heterosexual marriage. It is time for us to put that argument behind us. You cannot separate the issue of civil rights. It is one of those absolute, immutable principles. You’ve got to have not just civil rights for some, but civil rights for all of us.
John Lewis knows from where he speaks. Lewis was the head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the early and mid 1960s, the student group responsible for the sit-ins across the south whose participants where often attacked and beaten on live television. The congressman was beaten into a pulp at the infamous confrontation with Alabama State troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. If John Lewis says gay rights are an extension of that movement, this is the man we should be quoting.
It's really nice when another Hollywood celebrity takes a stand for gays or makes a pro-marriage equality comment. But we really need to amplify the messages of people like John Lewis and Coretta Scott King who were in the trenches in the 1950s and 1960s. Especially when confronting these so-called pastors and civil rights leaders are more concerned with happens in the bedroom and less concerned about poverty and violence in their own communities.