The New York State Democratic primary election for president is still three months away, but the Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City isn’t waiting any longer.
Members of the club will hear from candidates’ campaigns, cast votes, and unveil their chosen candidate when the club holds its 2020 presidential endorsement meeting at the LGBT Community Center on January 22 at 8 p.m.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, out gay former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, billionaire Tom Steyer, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang have responded to the club’s questionnaire.
Among candidates to qualify for the most recent debate, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was the only one who did not offer a response as of the evening of January 21.
Candidates were asked by Stonewall to explain any activities or experiences demonstrating their commitment to the LGBTQ civil rights movement, outline how their experience makes them qualified for the office, and detail their specific policy proposals affecting the community.
All candidates who responded vowed to push queer rights forward if elected president, but some took broader approaches to their questionnaire responses. Every candidate except for Buttigieg explicitly mentioned the Equality Act — a comprehensive measure that would usher in nationwide LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections — and every candidate except for Yang and Warren specifically invoked the four-decade battle against HIV/ AIDS. Sanders and Buttigieg vowed to eradicate the epidemic by 2025 and 2030, respectively.
Biden repeatedly framed his responses in the context of re-implementing “Obama-Biden administration policies” — including reversing the ban on transgender service members and reinstating the Obama directive interpreting Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to bar sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination under the prohibition on sex discrimination. The former vice president also centered much of his response on his advocacy for marriage equality, and he noted that the administration he was part of enacted the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Buttigieg opened his response by offering just one sentence about his approach to LGBTQ rights, saying he would “protect LGBTQ+ children in our schools, make PrEP accessible to all, and end the HIV/ AIDS epidemic by 2030.” He used much of the rest of his response to the club to point to his other plans, like his Douglass Plan to address challenges faced by the African-American community — which had a controversial rollout — and his proposals focused on Latinx folks and the Native American community. He did include a sentence at the end saying he would call for making Julius’ bar in the West Village a national monument.
Like Buttigieg, some other candidates also offered little in their responses about queer rights — Yang provided just three short paragraphs in total — and Steyer demonstrated an inability to explain LGBTQ rights without stumbling on terminology. He referred to transgender individuals as “transgendered” and at one point mixed up gender and gender identity.
Warren and Sanders each submitted the most detailed and relevant responses, touching on a wide range of issues facing the community — from housing to the intersectional marginalization of transgender women of color. Yet, none of the candidates dared bring up the movement to decriminalize sex work, which is one of the most significant issues facing many trans women of color.
Warren also used her questionnaire to confront the major damage President Donald Trump has inflicted on federal courts with his relentless appointments of right-wing judges, many of them hostile to the queer community and often woefully unqualified for the federal bench. She specifically pledged to nominate judges who would respect LGBTQ rights.
But Sanders and Warren diverged when it came to healthcare. Having distanced herself from Medicare for All, Warren only mentioned the need to reinstate nondiscrimination protections in healthcare. Sanders, meanwhile, stressed that his single-player Medicare for All plan would cover gender-affirming care, bolster access to PrEP, dismantle barriers to mental health care, increase suicide prevention efforts, and ban discrimination in healthcare. He also said he would use “federal march-in rights” to lower the price of Truvada for PrEP by extending patents to other manufacturers.
Interestingly, candidates also offered very different responses when asked about their activities or experiences showing commitment to the LGBTQ civil rights movement.
Biden pointed back to his votes authorizing HIV/ AIDS funding in 1987 and his vote in 1992 against legislation banning the nation’s capital from providing benefits to same-sex couples, while Sanders, the one-time mayor of Burlington, Vermont, mentioned that he supported that city’s first Pride March by signing a Lesbian and Gay Pride Day proclamation in 1983. Two years later he signed a housing and employment ordinance protecting gay and lesbian folks from discrimination.
Other candidates only pointed to their recent work supporting LGBTQ causes — including Buttigieg, who came out in 2015, and Warren, who only cited her LGBTQ-related work in the last decade. Steyer and Yang did not answer the question at all.
Many of the points laid out by candidates were mentioned when they outlined their LGBTQ platforms at a pair of forums last year, though Sanders missed both of those events. He has long supported comprehensive queer rights, but his speeches and comments during debates have largely been limited to rhetoric about sexual orientation and gay rights rather than being inclusive of transgender folks.
The candidates’ responses are by no means representative of their entire platform on queer issues — most of them have dedicated pages for that on their campaign websites — but their responses to Stonewall signaled their political intentions toward the community and set the scene for what campaign surrogates could convey at the endorsement meeting.