LGBT community mourns loss of an equality champion in the Senate

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By Malissa Rogers

Daniel Inouye, a proponent of gay rights and the second-longest serving Senator, died Monday at the age of 88, succumbing to a respiratory illness. 

His political career began in Hawaii where he served as the state’s first U.S. Representative in congress when the state joined the union in 1959. A senator since 1963, Inouye was the most senior senator at the time of his death. Over the course of his career, Inouye became the nation’s highest-ranking Asian-American politician, serving as the President pro tempore of the United States Senate from 2010 to 2012. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his courage in World War II.

As a politician, he dedicated his time to fighting for lesbian, gay, transgender and bi-sexual rights. He voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and endorsed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He became highly influential in the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” believing no soldier should be kept from fighting because of their sexuality.

“Finally, all brave men and women who want to put on the uniform of our great nation and serve in the armed services may do so without having to hide who they are,” Inouye wrote upon the bill’s passage. “I fought alongside gay men during World War II and many of them were killed in combat. Those men were heroes. And once again, heroes will be allowed to defend their country, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

President Obama and many LGBT leaders responded to his death with statements addressing his courage and his triumphs for the gay community. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin released a statement on Monday:

“LGBT Americans across this country especially honor his unequivocal support for full LGBT equality—most notably, his 1996 vote against the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act…. Senator Inouye was a trailblazing leader and he will remain in our memories for standing with his LGBT sisters and brothers from day one. We will miss him, and every American should be grateful to have been touched by the life of this remarkable man.”

According to the press release on the late senator’s website, when asked in recent days how he wanted to be remembered, Dan said, very simply, “I represented the people of Hawaii and this nation honestly and to the best of my ability. I think I did OK.”

His last word was “Aloha.”

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