The presidential campaign for Democratic candidate Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) tore into the Human Rights Campaign on Tuesday for endorsing Hillary Clinton.
After the Human Rights Campaign announced on Tuesday it would back Clinton, the Sanders campaign criticized the nation’s largest LGBT group in response to a Washington Blade inquiry for a reaction.
“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.
Touting Sanders as “somebody who’s been for gay rights long, long ago” since he was mayor of Burlington, Vt., Briggs said Sanders as a U.S. senator voted against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993 and he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Briggs also cited Sanders’ support in calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn DOMA.
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.”
Both “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and DOMA became law under former President Bill Clinton.
Hillary Clinton supported DOMA through her 2000 campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in New York and backed only repealing Section 3 of the law during her first presidential campaign. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton now support marriage equality.
“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.”
Briggs declined to elaborate on what actions the Human Rights Campaign has taken that he doesn’t understand.
Brandon Lorenz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement to the Blade responded to the Sanders campaign’s criticisms.
“There are certainly several friends of equality in this race, but the 32 community leaders who comprise HRC’s Board of Directors have unanimously decided that Hillary Clinton is the champion we need to fight for us each day on the campaign trail and every day in the White House,” said Lorenz. “She has a strong record, a strong agenda, and a strong ability to win against any Republican running on an anti-LGBT platform in November and lead from Day One.”
Each of the Democratic presidential candidates submitted responses to questionnaires by the Human Rights Campaign, which the organization made public on the day it announced its endorsement. Both Clinton and Sanders responded in the affirmative to every action HRC sought in its questionnaire.
In May, Sanders, in an interview with the Washington Blade, became the first presidential candidate to support openly trans service in the U.S. military and made a point about including trans people in his campaign and presidency.
Asked what steps can be taken to address the high rate of violence against trans women, particularly trans women of color, Sanders said, “I think we have to, among other things, do a better job in educating our police officers.”
But Sanders hasn’t always been in favor of full marriage equality. In 2006 when asked by the Vermont-based Times Argus newspaper if Vermont should legalize same-sex marriage, Sanders was quoted as saying, “Not right now, not after what we went through,” referring to the conflict in the state over civil unions.
HRC endorsed then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama in June 2008 after he had secured the nomination following a bruising primary battle with Hillary Clinton.
Matt Corridoni, a spokesperson for Martin O’Malley, responded to the Human Rights Campaign’s endorsement of Clinton by emphasizing the former Maryland’s governor record on LGBT rights.
“Gov. O’Malley passed Maryland’s first transgender anti-discrimination bill as mayor of Baltimore, signed marriage equality into law as governor of Maryland and defended it at the ballot box, and his campaign is the only on record saying he would consider and LGBT running mate,” Corridoni said. “His record speaks for itself.”