Rep. Lantos: Leaving Us with Hope

Shortly after arriving at work today I received an email from a colleague informing me that Congressman Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo, San Francisco), 80, passed away this morning due to complications from cancer.

Rep. Lantos was an inspiration. As a Hungarian Jew, Rep. Lantos was the only survivor of the Holocaust to serve in Congress. During his 30 years of service, he co-founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus through which he defended the rights of minorities around the world. I find it particularly moving that two years ago, at 78 years old, Rep. Lantos was arrested on the steps of the Sudanese embassy protesting the genocide in Darfur.

His belief in civil rights led him to be a strong advocate domestically for women’s right to choose and for gays and lesbians to have the right to marry. He was also widely recognized as a friend of the environment.

One of the last contributions to come out of Rep. Lantos’ office was draft legislation reauthorizing the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). As chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, his office developed this crucial legislation, due to be marked up this Thursday.

Within the community of global HIV/AIDS advocates, researchers, and program staff, the last few weeks have seen a flurry of emails about the nuances of the bill and its political future. Within those emails, our community affectionately dubbed the legislation as the “Lantos bill.”

The “Lantos bill” honors humanity. As a parting gift to our community, and our world, this bill would position the United States to provide the most effective and inspired leadership in the history of the struggle against HIV/AIDS. In addition to allocating $50 billion over five years, it breaks down barriers to providing women and youth with comprehensive information about HIV prevention; information that could save their lives. Additionally, the “Lantos bill” dares to care about the populations most at risk of contracting HIV, such as sex workers and people struggling with drug addiction.

For me, it is a great privilege to be advocating for one of the last pieces of legislation that this man crafted. I invite you to join me in convincing this Congress that the best way to honor Rep. Lantos’ death is by passing the “Lantos bill” just as he wrote it.

Today was a sad day on Capitol Hill. Thankfully, Rep. Lantos left us a path to a better future.