Grey Weinstein (they/he)
The 2020 presidential election is fast approaching. Depending upon when you are reading this. you might even be in the process of deciding who to support in the Michigan primary now. Whether voting, choosing a campaign to donate money to, or just considering which candidate to support in general, hopefully you want a someone who supports LGBT rights. Here, for your consideration, is a look into how the frontrunners have voted in regards to LGBT rights in the past.
Biden has faced criticism for his attitude towards LGBTQ issues, most notably when he called infamous homophobe (and Vice President of the United States) Mike Pence a “decent guy” in March 2019. However, more important than Biden’s recent gaffes is his track record on policy, which has some notable stains on it. In 1990 Biden voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as an act between a man and a woman. His record on LGBT service in the military is also complicated. Biden advocated for the removal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy from a 1993 spending bill. However, when Congress failed to remove the amendment, Biden voted in favor of the bill, which included “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation. On the other hand, Biden was also Vice President in 2010 when Barack Obama repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and allowed LGBTQ folks to serve in the armed forces openly. It is worth noting that while today “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is rightly viewed as discrimination, at the time that it was passed many saw it as a step forward. Yes, it banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, but it was progress from the military’s previous policy, which encouraged the armed forces to actively “out” and discharge closeted homosexuals. In 2012, Biden gave an interview in which he publicly came out in favor of same-sex marriage as a legal right. He did so before Obama began publicly supporting same-sex marriage; in fact, Biden’s declaration of support is widely seen as having “pushed” the Obama White House into fully backing marriage equality. Today, Biden publicly advocates for a ban on conversion therapy in his bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination. He has also said that he thinks sex-reassignment surgeries should be covered under the US healthcare system, and that doctors should be prohibited from refusing treatment to trans people. The question remains of whether Biden’s recent contributions towards LGBT equality are enough to make up for his past votes. That’s something that every voter must decide for themselves.
Sanders has been relatively progressive on LGBTQ issues. As mayor of Burlington Vermont, he supported the city’s pride march in 1983. (Considering the taboo around “pride” events at the time this is fairly significant.) He voted against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act. Bernie was an active supporter of same-sex marriage. He backed Vermont’s legalization of same-sex marriage in 2009, making it the first state to pass such legislation. He also cosponsored Senate Bill 1303 in 2017, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which would have allowed same-sex couples to adopt had it successfully passed. Sanders signed the Student Non-Discrimination Act of 2011 and cosponsored the Student Non-Discrimination Act of 2013, both of which protected LGBTQ students from discrimination. However, critics complain that Bernie does not push hard enough for LGBTQ issues. Many cite his comment in 2006 in which he declined to support federal legalization of gay marriage, saying, “The whole issue of marriage is a state issue.” Despite these concerns, the Human Rights Campaign gives him a rating of 100 percent.
Like Sanders, Warren has been a longtime champion of LGBT rights. She included LGBT issues in her first Senate campaign in 2011 when she supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Had it passed, this bill would have protected LGBT people from job and hiring discrimination. After she was elected, she was vocal in pushing Obama to publicly support same-sex marriage. She also backed the Equality Act, passed by the House of Representatives in 2019, which would add “sexual orientation and identity” to the list of protected groups. Warren has one major inconsistency in her record for LGBTQ support. In 2012, while running for Senate, she was asked about the case of Michelle Kosilek, a transgender inmate who had filed a lawsuit after being denied gender-reassignment surgery while incarcerated. Of Kosilek’s surgery, Warren commented, “I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars.” Warren addressed that hurtful comment, but not until she decided to run for president in 2019. Her exploratory committee released a statement in January of 2019 saying, “Senator Warren supports access to medically necessary services, including transition-related surgeries. This includes procedures taking place at the VA, in the military, or at correctional facilities.” After years of silence on the matter, this not-quite-apology certainly seems motivated by political necessity. It is worth noting, however, that Warren is proposing a unique progressive policy around LGBT rights. In June 2019 she introduced a bill that would allow same-sex couples who were married while the Defense of Marriage Act was in place to refile their taxes. Under DOMA, married same-sex couples had to file their taxes as individuals rather than as a married couple; under Warren’s program couples could receive reparations of up to $57 million.
While it may come as a surprise, Bloomberg has pushed for some pro-LGBT legislation and policies during his time as the mayor of New York City. In 2011, for example, he advocated for the New York state legislature to legalize same-sex marriage. As early as 2002 he signed a bill to add gender identity to the list of identities protected under anti-discrimination laws. This extended civil rights protections to transgender and nonbinary people in the city of New York, something that Michigan has still failed to do as a state. Bloomberg’s campaign is certainly very eager to claim credit for that pro-trans rights bill now, in 2020. It is worth noting, however, that Bloomberg initially argued against the bill, saying that additional protections for transgender people were unnecessary. It was only when the bill passed the legislature that Bloomberg agreed to sign it. Bloomberg also failed to support policy to make it easier for trans people to change the sex marker on their birth certificates. He cut funding to programs intended to fight HIV/ AIDS and homelessness. In 2010, state government passed a bill to make housing more affordable for HIV-positive New Yorkers receiving housing assistance through the HIV/ AIDS Services Administration. The bill would have prevented them from being charged over 30 percent of their income for rent; Bloomberg urged then-Governor David Paterson to veto the bill. Most recently, Bloomberg has been in the news for a video that surfaced of him in 2019 referring to a transgender woman as “some guy in a dress” and calling trans people in general “he, she, or it.” To make matters worse, Bloomberg said this while arguing that protections for trans people should not be on Democrats’ platforms because, he insisted, it might alienate voters. Although he has since apologized, a Bloomberg presidency would likely be a step backwards for trans rights.
Gabbard infamously worked for The Alliance for Traditional Marriage, a group which fought against pro-LGBT legislation and advocated for an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage in Hawaii. Sure, this was before her election to Congress, but when she ran for Hawaii state legislature in 2002 much of her campaign was based on her anti-LGBT advocacy. Gabbard has since apologized for her past stance against LGBT rights, and since then she has supported the repeal of DOMA. She currently serves on the House LGBT Equality Caucus. In the past year, she earned a perfect rating of 100 percent on LGBT issues from the Human Rights Campaign.