Sanders Campaign: 'Splaining, Erasure, and Outright Lies

[Content note: erasure of trans and bi people.]

Welp, looks like the Bernie Sanders Campaign has decided to join its stans in some epic obnoxious behavior. The Human Rights Campaign announced today that it was endorsing Hillary Clinton for president, and the geniuses running Sanders' campaign decided that attacking the HRC as corrupt and uninformed would be a wonderful way to win support:

“It’s understandable and consistent with the establishment organizations voting for the establishment candidate, but it’s an endorsement that cannot possibly be based on the facts and the record,” said Sanders campaign spokesperson Michael Briggs.

...“So who knows what prompted the Human Rights Campaign to do what it does — I have trouble myself figuring why they do some of the things they do over the years — but I think the gay men and lesbians all over the country will know who has been their champion for a long, long time and will consider that as they make up their mind on support for his campaign,” Briggs said.

Asked whether he meant to include bisexual and transgender people in his description of gay men and lesbians, Briggs said that was correct and he meant “LGBTQ people all over the country.”

Yes, there is definitely nothing like completely erasing people to make them confident you are an ardent supporter of their rights! I always feel confident that when people forget about my existence entirely, they are truly my "champion!"

(Disclosure: I actually do not feel they are my champions, in any way.)

Look, there's a lot to criticize about the Human Rights Campaign. It's too often been focused on the interests of well off, healthy, white gay men, and neglected the needs of many queer folk, such as those with HIV, minority and working class lesbians, and trans people in general. (And that's not a comprehensive list.) That said, they have also been a very visible advocacy group for marriage equality in particular. There's value to that. It's a mixed record.

But, hey, you know who else has a mixed record on issues of importance to LGBTQUIA folks? Bernie Sanders. Yes, he authorized gay pride observations and parades as Mayor of Burlington. He also signed nondiscrimination legislation, but did not originate it, explaining that gay rights were not a priority for him. Yes, he voted against DOMA and DADT, and those were courageous stances for which he deserves much credit. He also very cautiously and conspicuously refused in 2000 to give an opinion about Vermont's civil unions legislation until after the matter was settled. (By contrast, the governor, Vermont's Senators, and both Democrats running against Vermont's Republican Senators all gave support one way or another--the two Democratic Senatorial candidates, Ed Flanagan and Jan Backus, came out explicitly in favor of marriage rather than civil union.)

So, frankly, this is a fucking lie:

Recalling Sanders support for civil unions in Vermont when it became the first state to enact them in 2000, Briggs said Sanders was “a pioneer on this early version of gay marriage, and has by far the most exemplary record on gay rights of any candidate ever in American history.”

Tell it to somebody who hasn't been paying attention, Mr. Briggs. Here's Peter Freyne writing about Bernie for Seven Days in Vermont in January 2000:

Obtaining Congressman Bernie Sanders’ position on the gay marriage issue was like pulling teeth...from a rhinoceros. Last month, shortly after the decision of the Amestoy Court was issued, Mr. Sanders publicly tried walking the tightrope — applauding the court’s decision and the cause of equal rights without supporting civil marriage for same-sex couples.

This week we were no more successful getting a straight answer. All we did get was a carefully crafted non-statement statement via e-mail from Washington D.C. And Bernie’s statement wins him the Vermont congressional delegation’s Wishy-Washy Award hands down.

Once more he “applauds” the court decision but won’t go anywhere near choosing between same-sex “marriage” and domestic partnership. “By all accounts the legislature is approaching this issue in a considered and appropriate manner and I support the current process.”

Supports the current process, does he? What a courageous radical!

That’s as far as Ol’ Bernardo would go. It’s an election year, yet despite the lack of a serious challenger, The Bern’s gut-level paranoia is acting up. He’s afraid to say something that might alienate his conservative, rebel-loving rural following out in the hills. Something that could be interpreted as “Bernie Loves Queers!”

Whoops! And lest it be thought this was just Freyne being a jerk, here's Kevin J. Kelly on Bernie, also writing for Seven Days in Vermont, in March 2000:

Sanders didn’t win four terms as Burlington mayor and another five as a U.S. Congressman by alienating his core supporters...Sanders is no crusader for same-sex marriage rights, either, or other causes that some Progs take up even though a large section of the party’s grassroots feels quite differently about them.

In April, after the legislature had passed a civil union law, this was Sanders' statement to Freyne:

"I think the legislature handled this issue with a lot of dignity," said Sanders. "I know there are a lot of very different points of view on this issue. People feel very strongly. But I think the legislators handled themselves with a great deal of dignity, and I agree with what came out of the legislature."

Wow. Strong tea, if you define "tea" as "hot water with a teabag waved over it." Sorry, but that's not a "pioneer."

Don't get me wrong. You know who else has a mixed record when it comes to queer issues? Hillary Clinton, who joined Sanders in publicly supporting civil unions, but not marriage, in 2000.

In October of 2000, Clinton made clear in response to a question from a gay voter that she did back civil unions -- implemented in Vermont that fall. "I don't support gay marriages, but I do support extending benefits to couples, domestic partner benefits," she said, "and the kind of civil union that Vermont adopted seems to be the way to create that opportunity for people."

Clinton's tea was as weak as Sanders' in 2000. He evolved on the issue faster than she did. He publicly supported marriage equality in 2009, beating Clinton by several years. (Not being a member of the Obama administration, of course, gave him a certain freedom to express views that Clinton could not even if she had shared them.) But Clinton, like Sanders, has good stuff to go alongside the bad. As a candidate in 2008, she made a commitment to gay rights at home, voicing concern for queer youth and ending inequities in tax code and immigration law that hurt same-sex couples. She also committed at that time to making global gay rights a priority in her foreign policy. As Secretary of State, she continued the fight for queer people's human rights around the world. In the state department, she enacted important changes that made a concrete different to queer people, including extending marriage benefits to diplomats in same-sex relationships, and making it possible for trans folk to have their true gender on their passports.

So, to sum: the HRC, a flawed organization, took a look at two leading candidates who are both friendly towards queer rights, but who both also have flawed records in this regard. The directors of the organization decided they preferred Clinton, based on the specific criteria of answers to a questionnaire sent to all presidential candidates.

In response, the Sanders campaign made some supremely bullying statements that can be summed up as: 'splaining, erasure, and outright lies, all of which is supposed to convince queer people that Sanders really really really has our backs.

Welp! Speaking from this bisexual's perspective, the response actually proves something quite different: that the HRC was probably smart to give Sanders a pass.

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