Why Feeling The Bern Or Feeling Hillary Clinton's Presidency Is So Tough For LGBT Voters

When the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in January, it may have appeared as if the former secretary of state had clinched the LGBT vote. After all, the Human Rights Campaign is the nation's biggest lobbying group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights. But the reality is that LGBT voters are undecided between Clinton and Bernie Sanders — like other demographic voting blocs, they are not of one mind.

For one, neither Clinton nor Sanders has a perfect track record among LGBT Americans. In his three-point reality check of the two Democratic candidates, Michelangelo Signorile, The Huffington Post's Queer Voices Editor-at-Large, stated the following:

1. Both candidates, right now, support full equality, including adding gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people to the 1964 Civil Rights Act via The Equality Act, which was introduced in Congress last year and would be a massive lift to get passed in this Republican-controlled Congress (or any foreseeable Congress), let alone even get a vote.2. Both candidates weren’t always in favor of marriage equality.3. Both candidates have obscured their pasts.

Lucas Grindley, the Vice President and Editorial Director for Here Media, which is the parent company of The Advocate, the nation's oldest and largest LGBT publication, tells Bustle that the Clinton vs Sanders debate remains extremely contentious among gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals: “You have to understand that there are households divided over this. Many of our Facebook feeds have been filled with heated disagreements.”

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According to this widely-touted February poll by the San Francisco firm Community Marketing & Insights, 48 percent of LGBT respondents preferred Clinton, while 41 percent preferred Sanders. Of course, it's important to note that there is a host of legal issues, like bathroom bills and various forms of discrimination, that specifically pertains to the trans community. That further complicates assessing the LGBT community as a voting bloc. While Sanders and Clinton both voiced their opposition to North Carolina's recent anti-trans bathroom law, neither has made trans rights and protections a focal point of their respective campaigns.

Though Sanders has been accused of overstating the progressiveness of his LGBT record, he was in favor of gay marriage years before Clinton, who has been seen by many as decidedly late in her support and playing it too safe as an LGBT supporter. Sarah Scanlon, LGBT outreach director for the Bernie 2016 campaign, tells Bustle that her candidate's support of the community has a long history.

"He supported gay rights activists as mayor of Burlington when they held the city's first-ever Gay Pride parade in 1983," Scanlon says. "He also signed one of the nation's first local ordinances that banned housing discrimination based on sexual orientation. Sanders has also fought against efforts to ban marriage equality, and voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. He also voted against Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and blasted a fellow member of Congress on the floor of the House for disrespecting gay members of the armed services."

Clinton also had a recent gaffe that may be the worst she's made this entire campaign: praising Nancy Reagan's handling of the AIDS crisis. However, Clinton apologized, and Grindley doesn't believe that her comments cost her long-term LGBT support. Grindley admits that it upset even her "vocal supporters," but thinks they did not tarnish her reputation in the long run. As Kit Williamson put it in an article for The Advocate, Clinton's Reagan comments may have "shocked, hurt, and offended" him, but he accepts her apology and remains a supporter.

“Even Sanders supporters who are LGBT also by and large have a favorable view of Clinton,” Grindley explains. “LGBT people are loyal to people who are loyal to them — and that’s partly why there’s such disagreement over whether to support Sanders, who actually scored higher on the Human Rights Campaign’s congressional report card.”

According to Grindley, one reason so many LGBT people, including Sanders supporters, respect Clinton is her 2011 UN speech in which she famously said “gay rights are human rights.” “There just wasn't anything like that speech until then,” he says. “So the speech was viewed as a signal she'd fight for LGBT people.”

Grindley thinks another reason many in the LGBT community respect Clinton is her level of accomplishment — professional achievements, policy knowledge, and especially her lived experience as someone who breaks glass ceilings. “Those ceilings have kept all minorities down,” Grindley says. “And LGBT people have watched for decades as the same people who tried to stop us from getting our rights also attacked Clinton. She's weathered the attacks in ways we admire. That matters in feeling like we're all in this together.”

Xochitl Hinojosa, director of coalitions press for the Hillary for America campaign, tells Bustle that Clinton “believes LGBT people should not only be able to marry, but also live, work, pray, learn, and raise a family free from discrimination and prejudice.” She cites Clinton's Fighting for Full Equality Plan as evidence of her commitment to push for LGBT rights.

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“Her plan builds on her longstanding commitment to the community,” Hinojosa says. “As secretary of state, as a senator, and as first lady, Hillary has fought to advance LGBT rights and move toward an AIDS-free generation, and she will continue to do so as president.”

Claire Ryan, a 65-year-old lesbian in Memphis, Tennessee, tells Bustle that she will vote for Clinton mainly because of these four campaign promises:

1. She has pledged to advocate for and sign into law the Federal Equality Act, which would outlaw discrimination against LGBT people in many areas: employment, housing, jury selection, and education to name some.

2. She will cut off federal funding for adoption agencies that discriminate against potential adoptive parents who identify as LGBT,

3. She wants to cap out-of-pocket expenses for people suffering from chronic diseases, including HIV and AIDS.

4. She has said she would accelerate the dismissal of charges against veterans discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

“I believe [Clinton] has my best interests at heart,” Ryan adds in the email.

However, Alaina Leary, a 23-year-old lesbian from Boston, says she's feeling the Bern. She tells Bustle she wants Sanders for president because she believes his policies will benefit all Americans: “I support Bernie because his values echo mine and because I believe he will support the best interests of all citizens, not just the LGBT community. Bernie has historically been a politician who has supported diverse communities and has been on the positive side of change. His policies regarding national healthcare, access to education, and social security support the LGBT community by extension, because so many in the LGBT community are disempowered by the current policies in place."

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Ian Johnson, CEO of Out Now, an LGBT consulting group, tells Bustle that even with Clinton's stature in LGBT circles, Sanders has plenty of supporters. “Some larger community groups have gone early on the record, [saying] support Hillary," Johnson says, but he also notes that "there are people in the community who see this as a tradeoff for possible influence in the Clinton White House." Johnson adds that younger LGBT community members (like Leary) may also be more likely to feel the Bern, which shouldn't surprise anyone who has followed this election:

There are so many LGBT people, especially among those aged under 30, who are strongly supportive of Bernie Sanders' candidacy.

If Clinton wins the party nomination, Johnson predicts more LGBT people will shift to support her. But he doesn't picture smooth sailing. “Hillary may face several problems,” he says. Still, if it comes down to a matchup between Clinton and Donald Trump, Johnson sees the LGBT community coming out for Clinton. "Anyone but Trump": The unofficial slogan of progressives everywhere.

Image: Bustle/Dawn Foster