The conventional wisdom is Hillary Clinton has a wall of support in the South in the Democratic primary because of her popularity with black voters.
One recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has Clinton up 68-21 percent over Sen. Bernie Sanders among black voters.
That view was reinforced by a series of interviews the Washington Blade conducted with black LGBT voters in the South this week. Those who spoke to the Blade in the days before primary contests in their states are uniformly in favor of Clinton for a range of reasons.
Alvin McEwen, a gay Columbia, S.C.-based blogger who writes for “Holy Bullies & Headless Monsters,” said he came to support Clinton because she has a more realistic approach to her proposals.
“I’m 45, I’m not one for revolution,” McEwen said. “I’m a very pragmatic individual. It’s all about planning and execution and the work. You got to build. It doesn’t happen fast. So, Clinton is the closer to my style of how things move along for us or will happen for us in the LGBT community.”
Based on her record, McEwen said he thinks Clinton can make things happen in Congress — or make things happen even without lawmakers if they decide to obstruct her.
“We’re going to have to have somebody who can work with Congress, or if Congress pulls that nonsense they did when Obama was president, somebody who knows the ins and outs,” McEwen said. “I think Clinton’s the one to do it.
The views of black Americans will carry particular weight in the upcoming Democratic primary on Saturday in South Carolina, where an estimated 55 percent of the electorate in 2008 was black.
Other states in the South with significant black populations will follow South Carolina on Super Tuesday. Among those states are Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas. The contest in Louisiana will follow on March 5, followed by Mississippi on March 8, then North Carolina and Missouri on March 15.
McEwen said he shares the sense black Americans overwhelmingly favor Clinton and thinks she enjoys support in the black community because of her background.
“She did work in the Obama administration,” McEwen said. “And even if Obama doesn’t say anything, that does rub off on her positively in the eyes of a lot of Americans, particularly black South Carolinians.”
Darius Jones, a 26-year-old gay resident of Columbia, S.C., and vice president of South Carolina Black Pride, cited Clinton’s support for LGBT rights as the reason why he’s supporting her candidacy.
“One of the main reasons I’m supporting Secretary Clinton in the primary is because of her stance when it comes to LGBT rights here in the South — not just in the South but in the nation, period,” Jones said. “She has a long history of fighting for our rights and just for equality.”
Jones said he’s volunteered with the Clinton campaign by participating in phone banks and voter registration drives. On the day of the South Carolina primary on Tuesday, he plans to canvass voters to get other Clinton supporters to the polls.
E. Taylor Doctor, a gay 27-year-old resident of Richmond, Va., who works for the state’s department of public health, said Clinton’s work with minorities is a reason he’s casting his vote for her on Tuesday.
“From the beginnings of the marriage equality bills that the United States backed in the early 2000s, to speaking for women’s rights in Uganda and speaking up for Black Lives Matter across the United States… she’s always been a voice for the voiceless and a prime example of what I want to see the president of the United States…look like and model for other countries as well,” Doctor said.
Tiffany Adams, a 39-year-old resident of Columbia, S.C., and pastor at the Kingdom Outreach Fellowship, said she has been a long-time supporter of Clinton because the candidate has “always supported LGBT rights, always supported the lift of economic disparity with people of color, she’s always been an advocate for groups I’m a part of.”
A lesbian who said her child has endured bullying in school, Adams cited Clinton’s support for federal anti-bullying legislation known as the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act as well as the candidate’s backing of federal comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation known as the Equality Act.
“I know that she is in support of the Equality Act and I’m excited,” Adams said. “Obviously people of color have benefited from the Civil Rights Act, and so to be able to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the protected classes, that’s good. That’d be awesome.”
Patricia Lassiter, a 52-year-old black lesbian in Columbus, Ga., said she’s casting her vote for Clinton on Super Tuesday because the candidate “going to hit the ground running” once she occupies the White House.
“We need a strong, unified party, and with Hillary, we’ll have a unified party, we’ll have a person who has so much experience — not just domestically, but foreign policy — and she thinks on her feet, and she’s not afraid of anything,” Lassiter said.
A member of the Georgia Democratic Party LGBT caucus as well as Georgia Equality and Georgia Unites, Lassiter said she’s making phone calls into all caucus states, walking neighborhoods and attending rallies for Clinton.
In comparison to Clinton, black LGBT voters in the South who spoke to the Blade were less supportive of Sanders despite his outreach efforts to the black community.
Doctor said he wants his president “to be a little more polished,” saying he hasn’t heard much about Sanders as a politician or activist in politics until this point.
“I do think he’s popular with younger generations, but I want someone who’s not so much popular, but rather someone who’s not afraid of being unpopular so long as the job is getting done,” Doctor said.
Lassiter said she and Sanders “agree on a lot of things,” but took issue with his lack of foreign policy experience and said he’s “only been a Democrat for less than a year.”
“What we need besides just a president, which is huge, is we need coattails,” Lassiter said. “And so, with Hillary, we have people that will follow her into office and will help her get things done. You can have the best president on Earth, but if that president, he or she, does not bring in people that will help with the agenda, you may as well not have that president.”
Although Sanders is considered to enjoy significant support among millennials, Lassiter said she doesn’t think the candidate has the same level of support among that generation’s black population.
“People are talking a whole lot about millennials and Bernie Sanders,” Lassiter said. “From what I’m seeing with my walking and talking on the phone, the millennials who are following Sanders are mostly white.”
Jones said “it’s hard to say” Sanders isn’t a good candidate because he shares a lot of the same views as Clinton, but said he’s too one-note about the economy and doesn’t offer the same level of inclusion.
“He really has said too little about the LGBT community in the United States,” Jones said. “He may have said some things and he may have briefly touched on to something, but he doesn’t go in depth. He doesn’t state that he has a plan. He doesn’t even state that he wants to include everyone, so I just can’t vote for him.”
But for all the dissatisfaction with Sanders, the Republican candidates earned far worse reviews among the black LGBT voters who spoke to the Blade.
McEwen said a Republican should not be able to win the White House because “all their candidates are dastards,” especially in terms of their anti-LGBT policies.
“Trump’s a disaster,” McEwen said. “Cruz is psycho. Rubio is the most dangerous because Rubio wants to twist everything. He wants to disenfranchise gay families and then turn around and basically make them feel guilty because they’re complaining that he’s doing it.”
For Doctor, the Republican presidential primary has devolved into “personal disputes” among the candidates, which he said has “disheartened” him.
“It never ceases to amaze me that it seems like the right wing and the conservative movement always seems to find, for a lack of a better word, pawns to push an agenda that is exclusive and conservative and cantankerous — and at the end of the day only benefits a certain percentage of the population and not the whole,” Doctor said.
It’s that trepidation over Republican candidates that prompts black LGBT voters to say they’ll vote for Sanders in the general election if he should prevail in the Democratic contest.
Jones, despite his misgivings about Sanders, said he’d vote for the candidate in the general election and believes he would open up on LGBT issues if he were the Democratic nominee.
“I fully believe that although Bernie Sanders has not said anything right now, I’m sure he would have no choice but to hear the LGBT community,” Jones said. “I’m quite sure he would have no choice but to open up knowing he has to be there for the community.”
CORRECTION: An initial version of this article misspelled the name of Alvin McEwen. The Blade regrets the error.