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Take It From a Trans Woman: Sanders's Embrace of Rogan Is Terrible

Sanders and Rogan

You know, if the Sanders campaign hadn’t said a damn thing about Joe Rogan’s half-assed endorsement, none of us would be here. There are a lot of celebrities, politicians, activists, and other various prominent people who endorse political candidates all the time, but none of the campaigns make a huge deal out of it. Maybe a photo with the candidate, maybe a private “thank you” phone call, sometimes they’ll let them speak at a political rally to pump the crowd. Rarely do they use campaign funds to cut a spot and tout it to the public. Yet, here we are, talking about Sanders and his campaign deciding to make a point of celebrating the Rogan endorsement and so now we gotta talk about that dumb bald bastard who made people eat cockroaches. 

Right now, the Sanders sphere is full of people championing the downtrodden Rogan and his fans. Look, Rogan has said some horribly transphobic, homophobic, sexist, and racist things. He’s given a platform to white supremacists, conspiracy nuts, the alt-right, and more. Joe Rogan is bad. Yes, he’s popular with a large segment of white men, which is why I guess the Sanders camp decided that celebrating Rogan’s endorsement was a good move. Now of course Sanders’s press secretary and his numerous “journalist” supporters (yes, I put journalist in quotes because many of these people are just unpaid campaign staff hiding behind a press lanyard) decided to handle the issue by saying that they welcomed people with differing views they may not always agree with.

That’s nice of them to say after spending the past five years freaking out about any casual association a Democratic politician had to a conservative person or anyone with money. Apparently they are okay with a big tent, but it’s up for them to decide who gets to be in the big tent. A transgender woman who doesn’t support Medicare for All? Bad. A transphobic bigot who does? C’mon in.

Of course many of Sanders’s supporters have tried to frame it as, “Oh, you support Hillary Clinton, a TERF and warmonger, but not Bernie because of Joe Rogan.” Framing everything against the most terrible thing humanity can do to each other is pretty obnoxious not merely because, and I can’t stress this enough, SHE’S NOT RUNNING, but also because it’s a completely unhelpful way to frame oppression and discrimination, which, as some of you may forget, can start wars. Additionally, if any of you were even mildly familiar with LGBTQ media, we took Hillary to task for her recent comments about transgender women. That’s one of the most angering things about this, they’re simply not listening to transgender people, Black people, and women who are quite rightly upset with the Rogan "ad."

Some prominent “journalists” like Ryan Grim at The Intercept said that the political organization Move On should apologize to Bernie Sanders for criticizing the Rogan clip. Why? Because Grim claims that Sanders is not bending his values one inch by embracing Rogan. That’s a bunch of crap. Firstly, if you say that there is no bending of values, yet Bernie Sanders tweeted several times that we should be doing everything we can to protect transgender people and that there is no place for it our society, than what the hell is Sanders’s campaign doing saying, “we may not agree on everything” with transphobia?

Another prominent Sanders supporter, Jeet Heer at The Nation, played the war card and said he didn’t understand a mindset that is more bothered by slurs, completely oblivious to the point that slurs don’t exist in a vacuum unless he’s arguing that we live in some sort of post anti-LGBTQ, racial, and sexist world. What’s so disappointing about Heer, is that he spends a lot of his time talking about Jack Kirby, the comic book artist who created the X-Men series and talking about how it is an allegory for discrimination, so he at least should know better.

This is all compounded by the fact that the Sanders campaign decided to release a campaign tweet featuring Rogan, but has yet to cut one focused on LGBTQ issues. Sanders additionally skipped both nationally televised town halls that were exclusively about LGBTQ issues (yes, the second one he canceled after suffering a heart attack). Sanders supporters keep touting his previous record on LGBTQ rights, which many have shown was not as bleeding edge as many claim. Additionally, by trotting out Sanders’s record when Sanders has clearly has put little effort into his messaging towards LGBTQ people, it comes across as nothing but a defensive act.

People have cited Sanders throwing a Pride Parade in Burlington back in the '80s; isn’t that great when you know that Atlanta and Dallas had such festivities in 1972. Some have pushed a Daily Beast article talking about how Burlington became a transgender mecca under Sanders, but couldn’t find a single transgender woman in Burlington to talk about it. Last year, Sanders tweeted on Transgender Awareness Day that transphobia has no place in our society, yet apparently with his campaign ad and his press secretary’s embarassingly weak statement, it has a place in his campaign.

Tu quoque is Latin for “you also.” It’s also the name for a logical fallacy most know as “whattaboutism” or the argument that “you too are also bad.” It’s basically used to escape accountability for one’s own actions because someone else has done something bad. It doesn’t change that you still did something bad. Yeah, Biden has done bad things, Clinton has done bad things, Warren has done bad things, but that doesn’t negate that Sanders celebrating Rogan’s endorsement is a bad thing. Bernie Sanders says that transphobia has no place in our society, but he, his campaign, his surrogates, and his supporters are perfectly willing to turn a blind eye to it in order to win. That’s a bad thing. When numerous transgender women, many of who have been vocal supporters of Sanders for years tell you it’s bad, it’s bad.

Sanders’s campaign for the past five years has been predicated on how much better for our country and our society it is. It’s been all about how he is uncorrupted by establishment politics, how he is above all of the usual dirty tricks and backroom deals. Yet, this is a perfect example of how he is most certainly is not. Claiming that by “bringing in” Rogan and his fans they can reform them from their transphobia and gently encourage them not be racist or sexist is not a great pitch for doing so, because it’s just as likely to push Sanders supporters in that direction. Any honest person will tell you that education and financial security is absolutely no vaccine against bigotry. With the history of LGBTQ, women, and racial minorities having issues that are unique to them and their oppression being shunted aside in the interest of passing laws that protect “everyone,” but leave discriminatory practices in place, it’s no wonder that they are all quite vocally upset at Sanders’s campaign touting Rogan’s endorsement.

They’ve seen it before, and this is a huge red flag being waived by a man in a safety vest and hard hat next to a roadblock with flashing lights on it to them. What happens if Sanders receives pushback from these people when it comes to civil rights issues? Will he toss us under the bus to pass Medicare for All? That’s what we’re afraid of. It’s just as likely to turn Sanders supporters against LGBTQ folks because they see them as standing in their way. We’ve already seen some dismiss our lives as “identity politics.” 

For the past few days, we’ve seen Sanders supporters and his campaign put far more effort into defending and excusing the endorsement of a bigot than many of them have ever said about LGBTQ issues. Now many of them are harshly attacking LGBTQ people who are criticizing the campaign’s decision, defending a movement that was the incubator of the alt-right, throwing out false equivalences, and playing dumb about discrimination in order to defend the Rogan and the Sanders campaign. They talk about how they care more about transgender oppression than the transgender people who are calling it out. It’s kind of clear that they made a calculated choice that winning over bigoted white men with student loans was more important than protecting the transgender community.

To these people: Just say you don’t give a shit about anything but winning. That you don’t care about who you hurt, that you don’t care about being hypocrites. No greater moral message or righteousness. It’s all about winning and defeating your enemies, and you truly don’t care who you have to roll over to do it. I can at least respect that.

Amanda Kerri is an Oklahoma-based writer and comedian, a regular contributor to The Advocate, and a former board member for Oklahoma City Pride. Follow her on Twitter @Amanda_Kerri.          

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