Following criticism that he hasn’t aided candidates down ballot from the presidential race, Bernie Sanders has announced three congressional hopefuls he supports — and two of them are seeking to defeat openly gay contenders.
In a fundraising email on Wednesday, Sanders announced he has endorsed three U.S. House candidates who support him in the presidential race and are seeking the Democratic nomination to run for Congress.
Sanders declared support for Lucy Flores, a former Nevada Assembly member running in Nevada’s 4th congressional district; Pramila Jayapal, a member of the Washington State Senate running in Washington’s 7th congressional district; and Zephyr Teachout, a law professor at Fordham University running in New York’s 19th congressional district.
The candidate makes the endorsements amid criticism he hasn’t aided other candidates seeking office despite having raised $140 million this election cycle. An unprecedented amount comes from small donors, whom Sanders often says have contributed a average of $27 to his campaign.
According to the Huffington Post, the fundraising email isn’t the first time two of these three candidates have worked with the Sanders campaign. Both Flores and Jayapal introduced the presidential candidate during rallies in their respective home states of Nevada and Washington. Flores also appeared in an advertisement for Sanders that ran before the Nevada caucuses.
But two of these three candidates are seeking to defeat openly gay contenders seeking the Democratic nomination to run for Congress. As of right now, a total of seven lawmakers serving in the Congress are openly gay, lesbian or bisexual, or slightly more than 1 percent of the legislative body. That’s short of the estimated 3.5 percent of the U.S. population as a whole who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. (Transgender people make up an estimated one-third of one percent of the U.S. population, but no member of Congress, nor any member of a state legislature, is openly transgender.)
Teachout is running against Will Yandik, an openly gay farmer and Livingston deputy town supervisor who recently had a child with his same-sex spouse. Their primary is on June 28, weeks after the presidential contest on Tuesday.
Jayapal is competing against two openly gay candidates: Joe McDermott, a former member of the Washington legislature and now a member of the King County Council, and Brady Walkinshaw, a member of the Washington State House. Their primary is set for August 2, some time after the Washington presidential caucuses for Democrats, which took place on March 26, and the Republicans, which is set for May 24.
Both McDermott and Walkinshaw told the Washington Blade they objected to Sanders’ endorsements of their opponents at a time LGBT people aren’t proportionately represented in Congress.
McDermott called Sanders’ endorsement out-of-state interference in a race that should be decided by people of his district n Washington State.
“The people of Washington’s seventh congressional district should decide their next representative, not out of state interests, whether from Super PACs or presidential candidates,” McDermott said. “As a gay legislator, I led efforts to include our transgender citizens in our state’s hate crime statute, and was a leader in the years long work to achieve marriage equality in Washington. I’ll put my track record of proven progressive results up against anyone, and so long as the voters of the seventh district aren’t drowned out by outside money, I’m very confident we’ll be successful in November.”
Walkinshaw said Sanders’ effort is undermining efforts to seat an openly LGBT and Spanish-speaking person as a representative in Congress.
“It’s sad that any national campaign would ignore the fact that multiple progressive leaders are running in competitive Democratic primaries like Washington’s 7th, where we have the chance to send our State’s first openly LGBT member to Congress and a first native Spanish speaker,” Walkinshaw said. “We’re seeing states and a radicalized Republican party around our country pursuing discriminatory policies with newfound fervor, and now is not the time to be closing doors on LGBT candidates.”
Their opponent whom Sanders endorsed, Jayapal, is a civil rights activist who recently was executive director of the pro-immigration advocacy group OneAmerica. During her brief tenure starting this year as a member of the Washington State Senate, Jayapal voted against SB 6443, anti-trans bathroom legislation that would have prohibited transgender students from using public restrooms in schools consistent with their gender identity.
The campaign for Yandik declined to comment for this article. Teachout, who served as CEO for the campaign finance reform Mayday PAC, has taken part in New York City Pride and during her 2014 primary challenge to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was endorsed by some local New York City LGBT groups.
McDermott has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, but neither Walkinshaw nor Yandik have made an endorsement in the presidential race.
The campaign for Sanders, who has a long record in support of LGBT rights and voted against the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, didn’t respond to repeated requests from the Washington Blade to comment on whether Sanders was aware he’s raising money against gay congressional candidates and whether he thinks the endorsements are undermining LGBT representation in Congress.
During a campaign rally Wednesday night attended by an estimated 27,000 people in New York City, Sanders said his campaign about ensuring a “decent standing of living” for all Americans, invoking the Stonewall riots among other things as an example of progress.
“This campaign remembers, interestingly enough, something that happened two or three blocks away from here,” Sanders said. “And that is that 47 years ago, the gay community said that in this country, right over here in the Stonewall Inn, that in this country, people will have the right to love each other no matter what their gender is.”