Jonathan D. Lewis, Gay Activist Against Prop. 8 and DADT, Dead at 64

Author: Trudy Ring

Jonathan D. Lewis, an activist and philanthropist for LGBTQ+ causes, died July 5 at his home in Florida after a long battle with CNS lymphoma, a rare form of brain cancer. He was 64.

Lewis served on the board of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which brought together attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies to fight California’s Proposition 8, a voter-approved constitutional amendment that revoked marriage equality in the state. Prop. 8 ended up being struck down in federal court, a decision affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013.

Earlier, he had provided funding for GetEQUAL, a direct-action group with the mission of pushing President Barack Obama on LGBTQ+ rights, including marriage equality and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” “GetEQUAL’s nontraditional and aggressive tactics to bring the issues to the forefront included activists chaining themselves to the White House fence, disrupting President Obama at public events and blockading Las Vegas Boulevard,” according to an obituary published on Obama signed legislation repealing DADT in 2010, and Lewis “felt immense pride … as he stood alongside GetEQUAL activists” during the signing, the obit notes.

Another project was developing and the Young Voter Alliance under the Young Democrats of America. It used a concert tour by hip-hop and R&B artists to motivate young people to vote, along with a new recording of the Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes song “Wake Up Everybody,” produced by Lewis, Russell Simmons, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, and Tracey Edmonds. The project helped make 2004’s youth voter turnout the highest since 1972.

A native of Ohio and graduate of Boston University, he moved to Miami after college and founded Jonathan Lewis & Associates, a design and development firm, in 1983. He ran restaurants in Miami and elsewhere, including Toby’s and Cafe Tu Tu Tango.

He was the founder of the Jonathan D + Mark C. Lewis Foundation, named for himself and his husband, Mark Christopher Lewis. Its projects include Farms Work Wonders, an experimental pilot project launched in 2016, that serves Appalachian youth by providing employment, teaching essential skills, and supporting their educational endeavors. The project has created an organic farm, a market, a bakery, and a glass-blowing studio, along with a restaurant that will open in August.

“My husband, Jonathan, had a clear vision of the world through a lens of what was possible, and worked tirelessly to leave behind an incredible legacy that I am committed to keeping alive and growing to its full potential,” Mark C. Lewis, who will become chair of the foundation’s board, said in a press release. “Honoring Jonathan’s legacy will be a weighty responsibility I don’t take lightly. I intend to do everything in my power to forge ahead exactly as he would have wanted, by lighting as many fires as needed to bring about real change. His legacy, kept alive by the foundation’s growing role in creating that change, is even more essential in today’s environment.”

Foundation CEO Paul Yandura added, “For 21 years as CEO of the foundation, I have had the honor and privilege of witnessing Jonathan’s humanity up close and personal and I will miss him, but we will continue to honor him. Two things we have always agreed upon: ‘we would rather make change than friends’ and ‘if everyone loves you, you can’t be making real change.’ He has always been willing to take bold risks and dedicate his personal resources in service of creating a more equal, just, and progressive world.”

“At a time when few thought the country was ready for nationwide marriage equality, Jonathan saw beyond the status quo and offered his generous support to organizations like the American Foundation for Equality Rights, taking a bold risk in pursuit of a big idea,” Chad Griffin, AFER cofounder and former president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in the release. “Thanks in no small part to Jonathan’s early support, the marriage equality movement was able to make significant advances in federal court, ultimately bending the arc of history towards justice and equality in the eyes of the law.”

“Jonathan put his passion, money, and energy into what he believed would better our world,” said Norman Lear, the award-winning television and film writer-producer and supporter of progressive causes. “Like his father [businessman and philanthropist Peter B. Lewis], he will be deeply missed by myself and many others, but his legacy will be felt for generations to come through the tremendous work he did in his short years, and the young people reached and continuing to be supported by his foundation.”

“Jonathan used his privilege and passion to agitate and motivate. He played a critical role in giving a voice to those in the community frustrated with the pace of progress around equality,” said Brian K. Bond, who was deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement under President Obama. “As someone working inside the White House at the time you could feel his presence and sense of urgency for action literally every day. He changed the traditional rules of engagement in Washington in service of equality.”

Lewis’s death was noted on last weekend’s “Passages” segment on CBS Sunday Morning.

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Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Trudy Ring

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