Bella Abzug, lesbian and gay civil rights pioneer, dies

Former New York Congresswoman First to Introduce Bill to Add Sexual Orientation to Federal Civil Rights Law

WASHINGTON -- Gay civil rights organizations mourned the death March 31 of former U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug, the New York Democrat who introduced the first federal lesbian and gay civil rights bill in 1975.

"Bella Abzug was a brave and dedicated advocate of fairness for lesbian and gay Americans," said Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign. "We all owe her an enormous debt as the pioneer who tried against enormous odds to extend civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation. We will carry on that work in her name."

"Bella Abzug understood that oppressions are connected and that they share the roots of ignorance and intolerance. And she not only understood, she acted," stated National Gay Lesbian Task Force executive director Kerry Lobel. "As right-wing forces in our country work to extinguish democracy by attacking people of color, immigrants, women, the poor, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, and other marginalized communities, more than ever, Bella Abzug is an example and inspiration for us all."

In 1975, Abzug introduced a bill to extend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to lesbians and gays. The measure would have outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations. Although it has never moved out of committee, the bill has been reintroduced every Congress since.

"Bella Abzug was light years ahead of her time when it came to advocating for lesbian and gay equality," Birch said. "She laid the groundwork for what has become the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill to outlaw job discrimination based on sexual orientation."

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