Bernie Sanders made his case for LGBTQ support in the 2020 presidential election Thursday, criticizing a recent move from the Trump administration enabling taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to refuse placement into LGBTQ homes.
The self-avowed democratic socialist made the comments at the annual 2019 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference, which the LGBTQ Victory Institute hosted this year in D.C. at the JW Marriott Hotel.
“We have seen mean-spirited and dangerous attempts to demonize LGBTQ people under the pretense of ‘religious liberty’,” Sanders said, making air-quotes with his hands on the last two words to indicate he’s using them loosely.
“And we have sadly and unexpectedly seen the Trump administration recently propose a new rule,” Sanders continued, “that would provide federal grants to religious organizations that actively discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, preventing them from adopting or caring for children in foster care, preventing them from enrolling their kids in pre-K programs and preventing them from receiving the health care services that they need.”
The Department of Health & Human Services unveiled a proposed rule late last month that would rescind an Obama-era regulation barring federal grantees to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Thus, adoption agencies, which are the recipients of federal funds, would be allowed to refuse child placement into LGBTQ homes.
The anti-LGBTQ adoption rule, recently praised by Vice President Mike Pence as “decisive action” on the part of President Trump, was one of several administration initiatives that Sanders said “stir up hatred and divide us up.”
“On a personal note, not as a candidate, just as an American citizen — somebody who opposes Trump on everything, that goes without saying — but maybe the ugliest thing that he is doing, which is kind of unprecedented, is to really go out of his way for cheap political gain to try to divide the American people up based on the color of our skin, where we born, our sexual orientation, our religion, our gender,” Sanders said.
The 2020 hopeful criticized the Justice Department for arguing before the Supreme Court “employers should be able to fire LGBTQ people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity” as well as anti-trans policies in the military and the health care system.
Further, Sanders railed against the increase in hate crimes against LGBTQ people, as recently reported in FBI statistics, saying that violence isn’t just committed against the gay community “but other minorities as well.”
“That is nothing less than a disgrace and unacceptable, and as president of the United States, from day one, we will reverse that ugliness and we will be bringing people together rather than separating them,” Sanders said to applause.
But Sanders also promoted his own record on LGBTQ rights from the time he was mayor of Burlington in the 1980s, the time he was a U.S. House representative in the 1990s and his tenure as a U.S. senator in recent years.
Among other things, Sanders said his vote in 1996 against the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act makes him stand out.
“In Congress, I have consistently fought against efforts to ban marriage equality, and I’m proud to be the only candidate running for president to have voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996,” Sanders said to cheers.
Sanders, who was in a small cadre of 67 lawmakers in the House to vote against DOMA in 1996, stands in contrast to Vice President Joseph Biden, another contender for the Democratic nomination, who joined the majority to vote in the Senate in favor of the measure. Biden, however, came out in favor of same-sex marriage on “Meet the Press” in 2012, which was seen as a catalyst in getting the ball rolling to advance marriage equality nationwide.
Telling the crowd a central theme of the campaign is “us not me,” Sanders said LGBTQ people has demonstrated the progress that can be made when a community comes together and organizes for progress.
“Here is the result: The result is you have completely changed the attitude of the American people in terms of gay rights,” Sanders said. “And in fact, among young people today, which is rather extraordinary, there’s no debate at all.”
“Among their grandparents, there remains discussion,” Sanders added. “But that is no small thing, so I congratulate you for doing what has to be done for real change in America, and that is through strong grassroots activity.”
Sanders isn’t exactly the favorite presidential candidate of the LGBT donor class or D.C., but was received warmly by the crowd. Some chants of “Bernie! Bernie!” could be heard as Sanders entered the stage and completed his speech.
Colorado State Rep. Brianna Titone, one of four openly transgender state legislators in the United States, was in attendance for the conference and had nice things to say about Sanders after his speech.
“When it comes to the LGBTQ community, Sen. Sanders has his heart in the right place and always has,” Titone said. “I don’t think he would disappoint us if he were elected as president.”