May 25, 2016 at 2:49 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Will Democrats unite after primaries?
Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, election 2016, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Photos by Gino Santa Maria; courtesy Bigstock)

With only a few states remaining in the Democratic presidential primary process, many are wondering if and when the party will unite around frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 20 percent of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters say they’ll vote for Republican Donald Trump in the general election over Clinton, indicating the rift between Clinton and Sanders may not be easily healed.

It remains to be whether LGBT Sanders supporters will be deterred from supporting Clinton by the latest development in her email scandal: The State Department inspector general determining Clinton as secretary of state flouted agency rules by using a personal email server not approved by agency officials.

Meanwhile, some LGBT supporters of Sanders are starting to look to Clinton as their next candidate of choice as the general election against Trump looms large.

While several LGBT voters who support Sanders and spoke to the Washington Blade identified reasons why they say Clinton is an unsatisfactory candidate, they say they’re beginning to look to Clinton because the prospect of Trump winning the White House is too frightening.

Rebecca Juro, a transgender New Jersey-based Sanders supporter and radio show host, said she’s “still a staunch Sanders supporter” but intends to vote for Clinton if she’s the Democratic presidential nominee.

“The alternative of Trump is so horrific to contemplate that even the possibility of no progress on the issues I care most about is more attractive than the damage that might be done to our movement should Trump be elected,” Juro said.

Nonetheless, Juro said she remains concerned about Clinton because of lingering questions about whether the candidate will remain committed to her stated policies once elected to the White House.

“I’m more than a little concerned that we’ll see the same thing from Clinton on trans equality as we did from Obama: Lots of progressive-sounding promises made during the campaign, but no credible action taken until several years later,” Juro said. “In addition, while Sanders has been consistent with his support for full equality for all LGBT people for many years, it’s only during this election cycle that Clinton has positively declared her support for true LGBT equality. To me, that makes her a bit too late to the party to be able to trust fully.”

Clinton enjoys an overwhelming lead in the Democratic presidential primary, having secured 2,287 delegates compared to Sanders’ 1,490. Despite now being unable to win the Democratic nomination by claiming states that have yet to hold primary contests, Sanders has said he’s basing his continued run on urging superdelegates in the states where he won a majority of the vote to switch their allegiance from Clinton to him.

Sanders has made clear he intends to continue his candidacy through the California Democratic primary on June 7, when a motherlode of 476 delegates are up for grabs, up until the Democratic National Convention in July.

Wayne Besen, a gay rights supporter known for working against “ex-gay” therapy who voted for Sanders in the primary, said all Democrats should unite behind Clinton in the aftermath of the California primary.

“I am a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders,” Besen said. “At this point, however, it would take a miracle for him to win the nomination. After the California primary all Democrats should unite behind Hillary Clinton. The stakes are simply too high. For those who are holding out I have four words: Donald Trump. Supreme Court.”

Many prominent LGBT rights advocates have declared their support for Clinton. LGBT organizations that have endorsed Clinton include Equality California, the Human Rights Campaign and the Equality PAC. The Washington Blade endorsed Clinton earlier this month.

Stampp Corbin, a gay San Diego-based Clinton supporter and publisher of San Diego LGBT Weekly, said he expects the Clinton campaign to welcome Sanders’ supporters with open arms.

“I understand the Sanders supporters fighting until the end, it is very similar to the Clinton supporters in 2008,” Corbin said. “When I was the National Co-Chair of the Obama LGBT Leadership Council, I welcomed the Clinton supporters when they came home. I would expect that the Sanders supporters will also come home this year. I mean is there really any other alternative for actively involved democratic voters? If you really care about our country, Trump, or not voting, is not an option.”

The tension in the Democratic primary piqued earlier this month during a highly contentious Democratic Party state convention in Nevada. Although Sanders had more slots than Clinton, Nevada State Democratic Party Chair Roberta Lange awarded more delegates for Clinton at the national convention because the Sanders campaign only filled 78 percent of his available slots. The result inspired consternation directed at the state party among Sanders supporters, which made national headlines.

In addition to being booed at the convention, Lange later faced death threats. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a Clinton supporter, was booed off the stage and later said she feared for her life. Accusations emerged Sanders supporters reacted violently at the convention, but they have denied any violence took place.

Charging that the Democratic National Committee has treated him unfairly during the presidential primary and the process is “rigged,” Sanders has endorsed the primary candidate challenging DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz for her U.S. House seat representing Florida’s 23rd congressional district. Her challenger is Tim Canova, a law professor who shares Sanders’ worldview and seeks to break up Wall Street.

Seth Barkman, a gay Baltimore resident and co-owner of MiY Home furniture store, is among the Sanders backers who said his support remains unwavering and blamed the DNC for his candidate’s current standing.

“My support for Bernie Sanders is one of principle and those don’t change just because of the powerful influence of the DNC,” Barkman said.

Barkman added even if Sanders decides to drop out of the race, the movement the candidate created will continue.

“I will continue to support him and other forward-thinking progressives until big money is no longer in control of our political system,” Barkman said. “My morals won’t change if he decides to drop out. I hope he does not.”

Barkman said it’s “tough to say” whether he’ll vote for Clinton in the general election if she’s the nominee.

“I will never vote for Trump, ever,” Barkman said. “I will not vote for Hillary either if her political platform becomes less progressive and she starts sounding like a moderate Republican in the general election.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

1 Comment
  • Anyone staying home and not voting for Hillary Clinton if she is the nominee is in actuality helping Donald Trump win- there is no other way to look at it. Any person who claims they are a progressive and doesn’t do everything they can to ensure that Donald Trump doesn’t get to appoint the next Supreme Court Justice really has to take a look in the mirror and consider what they are doing. There has never been as clear a difference in candidates as there will be between Trump and Clinton. I respect all those who supported Sanders but if he loses the nomination staying home can’t be an option for people who truly believe in what he stood for.

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