We’re in the thick of the primary season, and the Democratic contenders for the presidential nomination are vying for the title of “Best on LGBT Issues.” That’s great for the national debate, but this is politics, so there’s mud being slung. Hillary Clinton’s surrogates have latched on to a 1982 Bernie Sanders-signed, evangelical-backed resolution for “We Believe in Marriage Week,” affirming marriage as only between a man and a woman. Sanders, then mayor of Burlington, Vt., supported Pride parades and civil unions, but he only went on record for marriage equality as of 2009. But Clinton’s side would do well to back off, as she has her own checkered past on LGBT rights. Despite her affirming that “gay rights are human rights” before a U.N. audience in 2011, emails emerged that show Clinton was furious over a pro-LGBT State Department policy that changed “mother” and “father” to “parent 1” and “parent 2” on passport applications. She too had said “man and woman” on occasions before, and only officially came out for marriage equality as of 2013.
Neither has as rosy a history as they claim, but they’ve evolved. Both, in their platforms, have detailed the long list of policy and legal changes that must be enacted to ensure the rights and safety of LGBT schoolkids, soldiers, trans POCs, would-be adoptive parents, people with HIV/AIDS, and citizens of other countries, among other LGBTs. They’ve both come a long way, and we need to take them at their words.
But too many of us aren’t the embracing types. There’s an insane and unhelpful level of vitriol among our own communities about who is allowed to be on our side, and who should forever be relegated to enemy territory.
But I get it. In 2012, Republican Rob Portman, the junior U.S. senator from Ohio, announced that he had changed his position on marriage equality. Whereas he had once been opposed to it, he now supported it. And he did so because his 21-year-old son came out. Great, right? At the time, I was not having it. Although Portman was one of the few national Republican figures to support marriage equality, I was resolute in my view that he did not deserve to be embraced by LGBT rights advocates. Who the hell did this latecomer think he was? He only supported my rights once the issue was relevant to his family. Had he never imagined that this matter was real, important, vital to anyone else? His support seemed illegitimate and less valuable than the support of those who had championed equality, irrespective of their personal experiences, all along.
But I was wrong. Portman had evolved. And who was I to deny his evolution? Why aren’t we all fully accepting of those who have gotten right on our issues, often overcoming lifetimes of social pressure predisposing them to hate us?
The entire country is moving! Should we reject anyone who wasn’t with us decades ago? Joe Biden, John Kerry, Barack Obama all evolved on our rights. There’s hardly a national pro-LGBT political figure who hasn’t.
Though Caitlyn Jenner came around on same-sex marriage, she’s still vilified for having ever held another view. Similarly, former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman once worked against us, but now he works for us; Dan Savage said troubling things about trans people, but he has learned to champion trans causes; HRC once sidelined trans people, but it has since worked to right its ship—yet all are still attacked. People (and corporations and nations) grow and learn, and we have to embrace them when they do.
It’s wonderful to have espoused picture-perfect pro-equality viewpoints all along, but not everyone did. We have to stop eating our own after they’ve come around.
Matthew Breen tweets at @matbreen