Gandhi said that our words are as important as our actions. Sometimes words fail us. Such is the case with the death of my friend, the beloved Senator Kennedy. Mere words can't begin to encompass the greatness of this man. For several hours I have searched for the right collection of words to describe the humanity of Senator Kennedy who is the greatest United States Senator in our nation's history.
I know, on this very sad day, heaven is richer and we are poorer.
Over the years, I have been honored to have been viewed as a friend and ally of this remarkable man. As a result, I have been able to witness first hand his passionate and endless battle for equality. The LGBT community has had no greater friend in the United States Congress than Senator Kennedy. For over three decades Senator Kennedy has fought for the rights of LGBT citizens around the world. When no one heard our cries in the night, in the early years of the HIV/AIDS crisis, one Senator rose from his chair and gave voice to our struggle and pain - Senator Edward Kennedy. He was often the only one to stand by our side in those dark days.
My first .interaction with Senator Kennedy was in 1969 (I was 23 years old). Doris Kearns Goodwin had invited me to his home in Virginia, to speak with him about the War in Vietnam and the passion of American youth against it. My first impression was the huge smile, a rolling laugh and a legend that immediately made me feel at home and like a long lost friend. There were only a few of us there that night and I was struck how carefully he listened as we spoke of our hatred of the War. This articulate man, whose life was filled with some of the nation's greatest minds, made me feel intelligent and of value. I never forgot his kindness.
That meeting began 40 years of working together for peace and against war, for LGBT rights and against hate, to find a cure for HIV/AIDS and against discrimination for those with HIV/AIDS. Those years were filled with legislative maneuvering and passionate speeches for equality.
There is not room in this piece to list the endless moments when Senator Kennedy fought for the LGBT community and for people with HIV/AIDS. He was the first Presidential candidate to make an appearance at an LGBT event. With his good friend Jim Foster and Steven Smith, he attended a fundraising event for his Presidential campaign at the home of Clyde Cairns in Los Angeles When others attempted to close the event to the press, Teddy immediately lifted the ropes and invited them to join the party. He was not a fair weather friend to our community. He embraced us and we embraced him.
In the early 1980's, as the AIDS epidemic began, nearly every elected official ran from us, scared of the political ramifications of the epidemic. Teddy ran toward us and for the next decades, over and over again, he fought against hate filled amendments (mostly from Senator Jesse Helms) designed to punish people with HIV/AIDS. He defeated most of them. At the same time, he led the fight to find a cure. The Senator fought to include us in the American with Disabilities Act, he was the lead sponsor of the Ryan White Legislation, he made HIV/AIDS medicines available to everyone by creating the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). He never stopped fighting for people with HIV/AIDS.
For LGBT citizens, he has been our champion for the last thirty years. He was the first Senator to be for Marriage Equality. He was among the first Senators to sponsor ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act). In the early 1980's, at my invitation and with the assistance of Bob Shrum, Senator Kennedy spoke at a MECLA Black Tie fundraising dinner in Los Angeles. MECLA was the first LGBT PAC in history. The place was packed and the entire room was in awe that Senator Kennedy would break bread with us when most politicians wouldn't accept our money or return our calls. The list of his accomplishments for our community is endless and impossible to encapsulate in one piece. Just know that in our darkest moments, he gave us light.
Never will the LGBT community have a greater friend or more important person on our long journey to freedom. When our history is written for future generations, the name Senator Edward Kennedy will be on almost every page.
For me personally, I will never forget his jokes, his laughter, his love of music and his joy. When I visited Hyannis Port one Fourth of July, he took Michael Fleming and I to three chairs along the coast and we sat and discussed how he could do more to help us. He shared stories about loss and stories that made me laugh. He would then become very serious about the strategy of achieving victory for our equality. It will remain for me one of the special moments of my life.
Nor can I forget the night at his home in Washington, DC, in 2004, when he and his extraordinarily beautiful and gracious wife Vicki, hosted an event for the LGBT community to raise money to take back the Senate from the Republicans. Teddy had called and asked me to organize the event and no one ever said no to Teddy. It was an unforgettable evening. Vicki greeted every guest at the door with welcoming graciousness and ushered us into their home. The evening was a historic one for the community, with numerous Senators, great speeches and the music of jazz legend sax player Dave Koz. Kennedy, who loved music and loved to gather around a piano and sing old Irish songs, fell in love with the sax playing of Dave Koz. Vicki took me aside during the event and asked if I could stay afterwards with Dave and his group.
As the guests left, we sat for over an hour in his living room laughing,telling stories and Dave playing. The Senator took Dave and his musicians upstairs to walk them through the history of his family and, then much to Dave's surprise, insisted that they call Dave's mother! Vicki and I stayed downstairs and traded gossip from the evening and talked hardcore politics. Although known for her graciousness, beauty and being an incredible partner to Teddy, Vicki Kennedy has one of the finest political minds of any individual in Washington, DC. I have grown to love, respect and honor her over the last years. Most importantly, she gave the Senator great love, joy and happiness in his last years. She was a gift to a life that had seen too much tragedy.
Finally, in the many moments that I remember with Teddy and his family, none comes closer than the birthday party for Bob Shrum given by his wife, Marylouise Oates. The two have been close friends, if not 'family' to the Kennedys over the years. In a beautiful evening overlooking the Bay in Sagamore Beach, he insisted we not stop singing that evening and there was toast after toast to his friend Bob and even more stories that had us in hysterical laughter. I remember turning to a young man who had never had exposure to the Kennedys until that night, and said to him, "Don't forget this moment, there will never be another like it".
Senator Kennedy has now passed into the world of legends. Stories will be told about him for generations to come. Teddy, was a kind, loving man who overcame tragedy to rise to a life of joy, love and honor. There was never one like him before and there will never be another like him after.
All future leaders in the Senate will be judged by the standards he created by his greatness. I will greatly miss him. My love and sympathy goes to Vicki and the family. I weep on this dark day.
Pictures are from LGBT event a Senator and Ms. Kennedy's home in Washington