By Sandhya Maddali
Though one may not align fully with all of a candidate’s platforms, it is still important to educate ourselves on their stances on a variety of issues. The issue of LGBTQ+ rights in particular seems to be quite polarizing, and the best way to get a real gauge of a candidate’s views on the topic is to take a look at their track record when it comes to LGBTQ+ equality.
Joe Biden’s 2020 platform pledges to “advance LGBTQ+ equality globally” and to “ensure our laws and institutions protect and enforce their rights,” according to the LGBTQ+ Policy page on his website, but he hasn’t always projected such a pro-LGBTQ+ rights image.
In the past, Biden has shown support, both indirect and direct, for homophobic policies – one of which was the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Included in a larger piece of legislation concerning LGBTQ+ rights in the military, this policy essentially forced gay people to hide their sexual orientation in order to serve. A second was the “Defense of Marriage Act,” which essentially defined marriage on a federal level as a union between a man and a woman, allowing states to legally disregard marriages between people of the same gender.
However, Biden has recently attempted to distance himself from his past record by working to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and accelerating the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the country. He also criticized the Trump administration’s transphobic amendment to Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which removed protections from healthcare discrimination for transgender and nonbinary folks.
Additionally, Biden’s platform does show a lot of growth from his past. He has detailed a long list of reforms he aims to make to improve the quality of life for the LGBTQ+ community, which includes strongly fighting the de jure and de facto discrimination endured by LGBTQ+ people. Specifically, the former vice president has pledged to make discrimination in the military, healthcare, housing rights, the justice system, and the workplace completely illegal. Biden has also outlined initiatives to ensure trans students will be able to access the facilities they need based on their gender identity and to support trans and non-binary people in the workforce through entrepreneurial training programs. His platform is lengthy, and the portion concerning LGBTQ+ individuals can be found here.
Kamala Harris has constantly been lauded as a champion for the LGBTQ+ community. Over the years, she has been an outspoken advocate for same-sex marriage, condemning homophobic rhetoric in the political sphere. She also played a large part in ending the Gay/Trans Panic Defense, which made assaulting or murdering someone on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation legal in the state of California.
Unfortunately, Harris carries her own history of transphobia. In 2015, while serving as the Attorney General of California, Harris signed off on a brief which denied Michelle Norsworthy, a trans woman who was incarcerated in a men’s prison, access to gender-affirming surgery. The brief contended that Norsworthy’s gender dysphoria had been treated for 20 years, and there was, therefore, no necessity for the surgery. Eventually, it was ruled that the denial of care was unconstitutional, as the surgery was a necessary medical procedure. Harris later addressed this decision in an ambiguous statement, taking responsibility but never explicitly stating that she believed incarcerated trans people should have proper access to healthcare.
Harris has also been firmly against the decriminalization of sex work and worked to remove websites that actually allowed sex workers to pre-vet potential customers. These stances fail to account for the safety of sex workers and are very harmful to trans people in general because, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey Report, large proportions of trans adults (more than one in ten) have at some point relied on sex work for a source of income. The figure is much higher for Black trans women, sitting around 40 percent.
The decriminalization of sex work is paramount to creating a safer environment for sex workers, and Harris’ staunch opposition is dangerous. Ultimately, Harris is quite cognizant of LGBTQ+ rights, but it is important to consider these largely ignored criticisms of her past, rather than presenting her as a champion for every member of the LGBTQ+ community.
The Trump administration has taken a wide range of regressive steps in an attempt to restrict and strip the LGBTQ+ community of their rights in almost every aspect of life.
One of the more recent legislative changes includes the reinterpretation of Section 1557, a portion of the Affordable Care Act that prohibited healthcare discrimination based on a variety of things, one of which was gender identity. This rule change essentially legalizes discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals when it comes to healthcare.
President Trump has also actively overturned guidelines established by the Obama administration that require trans students to be treated as the gender they identify as in schools, meaning they have effectively allowed schools to misgender, harass, and deny students access to facilities.
In terms of discrimination in the workplace, President Trump has gone on record opposing the Equality Act, cementing his disregard for LGBTQ+ folks and their equal treatment. A similar stance was taken by the Trump administration in terms of housing, allowing emergency shelters to stop transgender and gender-nonconforming people from entering. Trump and his administration have made so many decisions that protect discrimination on the basis of sexuality and/or gender identity that it casts doubt on the claim that he values LGBTQ+ individuals and their quality of life.
Trump has endorsed and praised a wide variety of ragingly anti-LGBTQ+ politicians as well, and though his personal opinions have been pendulum-like over the years, his most recent rhetoric on LGBTQ+ rights and marriage equality has been unfailingly negative. His cabinet is rife with homophobic members; from Mike Pence to Betsy DeVos to Jeff Sessions to Ben Carson, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment infiltrates pretty much every corner of the government. Trump’s stances have been extremely damaging, and he shows no signs of relenting if he is elected for a second term. A re-election could mean further rollbacks of the civil rights afforded to LGBTQ+ people by the government.
Mike Pence has been fairly consistent in his belief that same-sex relationships are not worthy of the same legal status as heterosexual ones. Refusing to ignore the scientific basis for homosexuality, Pence was quoted as saying that homosexuality was a choice in the 1990s. As Governor of Indiana, Pence signed a bill to ban same-sex marriage. On March 25th, 2015, he also signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was backed primarily by business owners with goals to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. In relation to this decision, Pence was asked specifically whether he thought it “should be legal in the state of Indiana to discriminate against gays or lesbians,” and he attempted to circumvent the question, even when repeatedly pressed.
Pence has spoken out in opposition of various pieces of legislation that aimed to combat anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. He voted against repealing the aforementioned “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.
As Vice President, Pence has contributed to many of the Trump administration’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies, many of which allow for discrimination on the basis of gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Additionally, Trump once reportedly joked that Mike Pence would like to hang all gay people. This unwavering anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment is important to keep in mind when assessing each candidate’s viewpoints.
There is a long way to go in the political arena when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, but as we educate ourselves more and emphasize the importance of equal rights for all, it is possible that someday there will be a candidate that we can wholeheartedly get behind whose policies both past and current fully support and uplift the LGBTQ+ community. For now, though, voters heading to the polls on November 3 should closely examine the candidates on the ballot.