Democratic U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey died Monday at age 89 from complications of viral pneumonia.
He was the oldest member and last World War II veteran in the Senate. He had announced earlier this year that he would retire when his term expired in 2015.
Lautenberg was a staunch LGBT supporter, who coauthored the original Ryan White HIV/AIDS Care Act and was a longtime advocate of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” as well as a marriage-equality supporter.
He was the author and primary sponsor of the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, a federal anti-bullying measure named for the gay Rutgers University student who committed suicide after cyber bullying.
Garden State Equality executive director Troy Stevenson said Lautenberg frequented GSE events and “personally engaged our members, his constituents, when they needed assistance. He was the first person to offer help when we needed it. He not only talked the talk, he walked the walk.”
Stevenson said Lautenberg “gave a voice to the LGBT community when we didn’t have one. A great deal of the progress made by our community, our state and our nation is the direct result of Sen. Lautenberg’s vision of true equality for all.”
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin called Lautenberg “a beacon for equality in Congress.”
“He fought for justice with more than simply his vote,” Griffin continued. “He knew bullying in our schools is a scourge, and he stood up to end it. He knew that workplace discrimination and hate crimes erode the freedom of all Americans, so he worked to stop them, session after session.”
Griffin noted that in 2004, Lautenberg delivered a moving speech on the floor of the Senate opposing a proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, in which he said, “When we see things that are shameful, we should not be too spineless to respond.”
“Sen. Lautenberg had spine, and he will be deeply missed,” Griffin said.
On Thursday, Gov. Chris Christie appointed Republican state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to the interim position.
A special election will be held in October to fill Lautenberg’s seat, with an Aug. 13 primary to select nominees. Chiesa said he will not run in the election.