BY PAUL SCHINDLER | Before even a single vote was cast in the 2016 presidential race, leading LGBT organizations and political clubs were making their bets — with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton well out ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, despite the fact that both broadly embrace the community’s agenda.
The biggest announcement, to date, came from the Human Rights Campaign, which announced its support for Clinton on January 19 almost a full two weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
“Hillary Clinton is fighting to advance LGBT equality across our nation and throughout the world,” HRC’s president Chad Griffin said in a written release. “We are proud to endorse Hillary Clinton for president, and believe that she is the champion we can count on in November — and every day she occupies the Oval Office.”
The release asserted, “Secretary Clinton has made LGBT equality a pillar of her campaign and recently unveiled the most robust and ambitious LGBT plan any candidate for president has ever laid out.”
Critics of HRC’s move, however, noted that the difficulty of distinguishing between the records of Clinton and Sanders. When both faced voters in 2006 Senate bids, neither yet supported marriage equality, and in three consecutive scorecards from HRC, Sanders edged out Clinton in his rating. Clinton’s husband signed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a measure Sanders, then in the House, was one of the few Democrats to stand up to.
Perhaps most importantly, both Democrats now pretty much check off every box on the LGBT political wish list. Noting the impact that former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley had in pushing Vice President Al Gore on LGBT rights issues when they faced off during the 2000 Democratic primaries, the Huffington Post’s Michelangelo Signorile asked, regarding this year’s contest, “So why didn't the largest LGBT group keep it going? Why didn't they keep both candidates competing for the LGBT vote and promising more on a range of issues.”
Signorile then voiced an explanation shared by other critics of HRC — and one which Sanders himself seemed to embrace.
“The only answer to that question has to do with access to the White House, and perhaps what the Clinton campaign may have said to HRC, and to Planned Parenthood, the Brady Campaign on Gun Violence, and other groups that have endorsed early, about the kind of access they might get — and what they might not get if they didn't endorse now,” Signorile wrote.
Sanders voiced that view somewhat differently, pointing to the tendency of insiders to go with insiders.
“We’re taking on not only Wall Street and the economic establishment, we’re taking on the political establishment,” he told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “So I have friends and supporters in the Human Rights Fund [sic], in Planned Parenthood. But you know what, Hillary Clinton has been around there for a very, very long time and some of these groups are part of the establishment.”
The “establishment” charge sparked some blowback against Sanders, from both Planned Parenthood and HRC, with HRC tweeting, “We share @PPact's disappointment in Sanders' attacks. @HRC has proudly taken on the establishment & fought for LGBT people for over 30 years.” On social media, many Clinton supporters highlighted, in particular, the firestorm Planned Parenthood has faced from the right wing in the wake of trumped of charges that the group sells fetal tissue for profit.
But others in the LGBT community defended the characterization of HRC as part of the political establishment. Andrew Miller, a spokesperson for Queer Nation, told the Washington Blade, “I’m surprised Chad Griffin wasn’t flattered that Bernie Sanders labeled HRC ‘part of the political establishment.’ Griffin, who has just returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, certainly runs the organization as if that’s what they aspire to. It’s gratifying that at least one American politician understood — at least for a moment — that HRC represents the one percent, not the majority of the LGBT community nor the values of LGBT Americans.”
HRC’s endorsement may have proved controversial, but the group is far from the only LGBT advocacy organization that has come down on Clinton’s side. In New York City, she has won the endorsements of the Stonewall Democrats, the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, the Lambda Democrats of Brooklyn, and the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club of Queens.
On January 27, in what clearly is an expression of establishment support for the former secretary of state, 10 out LGBT city councilmembers and state legislators announced their support— West Side Senator Brad Hoylman, Manhattan Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Daniel O’Donnell, their Staten Island colleague Matthew Titone, and their upstate colleague Harry Bronson, and Councilmembers Daniel Dromm, Corey Johnson, Rosie Mendez, James Vacca, and Jimmy Van Bramer.
Similarly, Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin and four of the six out LGBT members of the US House — New York’s Sean Patrick Maloney, Rhode Island’s David Cicilline, Jared Polis of Colorado, and Mark Takano of Hawaii — have endorsed Clinton, who also enjoys the support of former Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank.
Sanders overall trails Clinton considerably in marquee-name endorsements, but he is not without support among LGBT groups and figures here in New York, having won endorsements from the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club and former State Senator Tom Duane, the veteran West Side legislator.
"Bernie Sanders is giving voice to people who are pushed aside and left out in a democracy where increasingly only the rich and powerful matter,” Duane said in a written statement. “He's mobilizing unprecedented enthusiasm, and he's doing it by telling the truth, just as he has for his entire career… I hope my endorsement will make it a little easier for other progressive leaders to join the campaign as well.”