Feeling the Bern: Sanders Is an Advocate for LGBTQ Issues

Some headlines lately have pointed out Hillary Clinton's unpopularity among American voters, but in some circles in the LGBTQ community she's a popular cultural figure. Many might attribute her support from sexual and gender minorities to her hiring of a gay campaign manager, Robby Mook, and her campaign announcement video that featured two same-sex couples. Thus, her support networks in the LGBTQ community come as no surprise, including a key endorsement from Equality California.

All too recently, though, the same LGBTQ cultural icon was speaking out against same-sex marriage in senate just eleven years ago. Rewind a little further and it was the Clinton administration that signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law during the lifetimes of almost every potential 2016 voter. Only now, when it's politically convenient and the Democratic voting base stands behind marriage equality and related causes, is the former First Lady speaking out in favor of the community. It is certainly worth celebrating that a high-profile political leader has lent her support to the LGBTQ demographic, but that is not enough to earn my vote.

There is, however, another candidate who has stood by LGBTQ Americans far longer than Clinton. His political record tells a much more supportive story than Clinton's very recent flip-flop on the issue. While mayor of Burlington, Vermont and in the midst of the AIDS epidemic - a very homophobic time in U.S. History - Bernie Sanders issued a declaration of Lesbian and Gay Pride Day in 1983. In 1996, Sanders was one of 67 House members to vote against DOMA. His alliance to LGBTQ causes hasn't flailed in recent years, with Sanders keeping sexual orientation and gender identity issues pivotal to his current campaign for the presidency.

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An intersectional look into the Sanders campaign's core issues undoubtedly sets him apart as an optimal candidate for the wellbeing of LGBTQ Americans. The senator has primarily framed his campaign around the issue of income inequality. Despite stereotypes about affluence in the LGBTQ community, class issues disproportionately affect the demographic. Most notably, 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, and overall LGBTQ Americans deal with higher rates of poverty, homelessness, and economic insecurity.

The War on Drugs is another domain where Sanders' stances would directly benefit the LGBTQ American population. Sexual and gender minority youth are alarmingly incarcerated at disproportionate rates in the Juvenile Justice System. Sanders seeks to reduce these disparities in incarceration caused by school-to-prison pipelines, which even more drastically affect racial minorities. Policy-wise this translates to eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenses, while also investing in mental health interventions for people struggling with substance abuse. These policies, particularly mental health interventions, would directly benefit LGBTQ Americans, who abuse substances at higher rates than heterosexual and cisgender individuals.

In addition to mental health, physical healthcare is a critical issue for the LGBTQ community. At a time when transgender individuals are less likely than their cisgender counterparts to have health insurance, Sanders' plan for a single-payer healthcare system would be a tremendous help.

While the cultural landscape for LGBTQ issues is rapidly changing, our community's political needs must follow suit. In the upcoming Democratic primaries, one candidate offers peripheral cues of cute same-sex couples to match her inconsistent views on marriage equality. On the other side, Bernie Sanders brings to the table a consistent political record that speaks for itself, as well as innovative policy frameworks on income inequality, incarceration, and healthcare. It is of course up to each individual voter to determine their candidate of choice, but this queer is feeling the Bern.