Today The Advocate proudly endorses Joe Biden for president.
That may seem like a no-brainer. After all, we were never going to endorse Donald Trump, and Biden is, by any measure, exponentially better than the lying, hateful, sexist, and narcissistic incumbent. A second Trump term would only add to the disaster he’s visited upon the nation during his first.
But reluctantly supporting Biden because he’s not Trump isn’t the same as enthusiastically endorsing him. We’re doing the latter.
Biden is running on the most pro-LGBTQ+ platform of any major-party nominee in the history of the United States. In his plan for LGBTQ+ equality, he promises to make enactment of the Equality Act during his first 100 days as president a top legislative priority; reverse the transgender military ban as well as military policies that discriminate against people with HIV; work to end suicide among LGBTQ+ youth; end the misuse of religious exemptions to enable discrimination; address violence against LGBTQ+ people (something especially affecting transgender women of color); and more.
Biden has called transgender equality the civil rights issue of our time.
He has a long and deep record of supporting the rights of LGBTQ+ people and those with HIV. As Barack Obama’s vice president, he advocated for passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (after having supported earlier hate-crimes legislation as a U.S. senator) and for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Both efforts were successful. He has fought to fund HIV treatment and prevention, and to protect people with the virus from discrimination. He famously came out for marriage equality on Meet the Press in May 2012, a few days before Obama did — and it didn’t hurt their reelection chances in the slightest.
His record also raises some questions that merit addressing. As a senator in 1993, he voted for the defense spending bill that included DADT, but this must be put in context. The policy was a compromise reached when many members of Congress, including some Democrats, objected to President Bill Clinton’s plan to completely lift the total ban on military service by lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. When DADT was enacted, it was understood to include “don’t pursue” and “don’t harass,” as LGB service members had routinely been pursued, harassed, and discharged under the outright ban. DADT was actually supposed to make things better for them.
Biden said at the time that he recognized there were already LGB people serving in the military, and he had no objection to lifting the ban but said it should be done in an orderly manner. He initially did not think DADT was the way to go, so he voted for an amendment that would strip it from the defense spending bill. The amendment, sponsored by liberal Democratic stalwart Barbara Boxer of California, failed to pass, and Biden ended up voting for the bill with DADT included. Unfortunately, pursuit and harassment of LGB service members continued under DADT, and Biden eventually insisted the policy had to go.
More problematic among critics is his vote for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. It prevented federal government recognition of same-sex marriages — which no state allowed at the time anyway, though a court case for marriage equality was proceeding in Hawaii — and allowed states to deny recognition to same-sex marriages performed in other states. It should be noted that there was widespread support for DOMA among both Democrats and Republicans — it passed the Senate 85-14 and the House 342-67 — and a Democratic president, Clinton, signed it into law.
Bill and Hillary Clinton later said DOMA was a means of heading off efforts to put a ban on same-sex marriage into the U.S. Constitution, an explanation activists have disputed. (Both Clintons eventually embraced marriage equality.) In the early 2000s, Biden twice voted to block this type of constitutional amendment. DOMA was eventually struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court after the Obama-Biden administration had declined to defend it. Then there was his famous pronouncement of 2012.
Biden has never fully explained how he went from voting for DOMA to endorsing marriage equality, but once he came to the latter position, his support has been strong and unwavering.
In a recent interview for The Advocate’s upcoming politics issue, Biden remembers being at a 2012 campaign event at the home of a gay couple, entertainment executive Michael Lombardo and architect Sonny Ward, and seeing the love between them and their children. At that event, Biden was asked if he supported marriage equality, and he said yes.
Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who was also at the event, said he had seen the vice president searching his soul to answer that question. But Biden has said his mind was made up, and he was going to speak out for equality — and he wishes he had done so sooner. The Meet the Press interview came a few days after the event. He has since performed marriages for same-sex couples and supported LGBTQ+ equality in other ways, including through a charitable foundation serving young people.
In 1996, Biden voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have banned job discrimination based on sexual orientation, but it fell one vote short of Senate passage. ENDA never became law, although Biden supported and sponsored later versions of the bill. It has now been superseded by the Equality Act, which would affect housing, public accommodations, and other venues in addition to employment, and which would include gender identity.
The Equality Act remains needed despite the recent Supreme Court ruling on job discrimination, so it will be crucial to have a president who favors and champions it (Trump, unsurprisingly, opposes it). Plus we need to elect a Democratic-majority Senate and maintain Democratic control of the House. And while Trump-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch provided a pleasant surprise in authoring the pro-equality ruling, most of the president’s 200 judicial appointees (including his other Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh) are deeply hostile to the rights of LGBTQ+ people as well as other marginalized groups. We can count on more of the same from Trump, but Biden would appoint fair-minded jurists to the Supreme Court and lower federal courts, and that is perhaps the most compelling argument for supporting him. Just as many of the civil rights gains that LGBTQ+ folks have seen in this country have come via the courts as they have from politicians.
Biden has been criticized for other actions he took during his long career in the Senate, including his support for the 1994 crime bill, which has been blamed for fueling mass incarceration (Biden disputes this, and PolitiFact ruled that Biden's assertion that 1994 crime bill "did not generate mass incarceration" was "half true."
"In the strictest sense, the law did not launch the massive rise in the prison population," the fact-checking source concluded. "But it was in keeping with pre-existing trends at the state level, and in a limited way, provided funds to expand and keep policies in place that would increase the number of people behind bars. At the same time, the crime bill funded other programs and made changes aimed at keeping people out of prison."
Biden's handling of the 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, when law professor Anita Hill accused the future Supreme Court justice of sexual harassment, was a mistake, especially as Biden failed to call witnesses who would corroborate her account. He has expressed regrets about the tone of the hearings.
Biden has been accused of inappropriate touching of women himself, and recently was accused of sexual assault by one woman, former Senate aide Tara Reade (Trump has been accused of assault by many dozens of women and even boasted on national TV of grabbing them by the genitals). Biden has said the incident described by Reade did not happen. There are those who believe her and those who believe him. No less a feminist than The Nation’s Joan Walsh has written that Reade’s allegation “doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.” (Others, like Susan Faludi, have added to that discussion.) Still, as with all unprosecuted allegations, it’s up to each voter to make up their mind about this. We urge you to look at what your other option is when you do.
Biden has pledged to name a female running mate. Many pundits believe she may be a woman of color. The time has never been more right for that.
You can not have had a career in politics as long as Biden without evolving on a lot of issues along with broader society. Most elected politicians with long careers, especially those who first took office in 1973 as Biden was, have had to evolve and advance with the rest of America.
The world has evolved on LGBTQ+ issues along with Biden. In 1973, an arsonist in Los Angeles burned the Metropolitan Community Church headquarters to the ground, and another arsonist killed 32 people at a gay bar in New Orleans. The victims burned to death, and some parents never claimed their kid's body out of shame. The Supreme Court upheld Florida’s sodomy law, Maryland became the first state to ban same-sex marriage, and New York City rejected a gay rights ordinance. Biden has been here to help push Congress and a president from that world to the one we live in now.
Yes, there are reasons to have questions about Biden. Every politician must be scrutinized and held accountable. Biden, however, has shown a willingness to change and grow.
As Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, said in endorsing him: “When you disagree, he’ll listen — not just listen, but really hear you and treat you with respect, no matter where you’re coming from. And he has shown throughout this campaign that when you come up with new facts or a good argument, he’s not too afraid or too proud to be persuaded.”
That's why most of his former rivals, including Bernie Sanders and former South Bend., Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg — the first out gay presidential candidate to appear in a major-party debate — have endorsed him.
We believe Biden has demonstrated this characteristic regarding LGBTQ+ rights, strong criminal justice reform, and reproductive freedom, all of which he supports unequivocally as the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.
He also has shown empathy for LGBTQ+ people, Black folks and other people of color, immigrants, women, the poor, the middle and working classes — and he would push for policies that benefit all these groups (and most of us are members of more than one). He has pledged to address systemic racism and police brutality by reinstating Justice Department oversight of police departments, investing in communities of color, and more. He also promises decisive action to combat the COVID-19 crisis and its economic fallout, whereas Trump has actually made this situation worse. Much worse.
Trump very obviously cares about no one but himself. He may pretend to sympathize with “ordinary” Americans, as long as they’re white, straight, cisgender, and some brand of (mostly evangelical) conservative Christian, but his policies are aimed at benefiting only the wealthy and a few far-right fanatics. He’s also done his best to reverse all the progress LGBTQ+ people made under the Obama-Biden administration and heap more damage on top of that. Trust us, the white supremacists who salute Trump do not want Joe Biden as president.
One thing is certain: Biden is not Trump.
There are those who don’t think Biden is particularly exciting, given that he’s a straight white cisgender man, a veteran Washington insider, and he wasn’t the first choice of many LGBTQ+ voters or others of a progressive bent. But he’s more than just “not Trump.” He’s not simply the political equivalent of comfort food, the man who will take us back to normal after the nightmare of Trump, a pandemic, and more. Indeed, he told The Advocate he doesn’t want to return to normal but to “build back better.”
“We have an opportunity now, unlike any time since I’ve been involved with public life, which has been the bulk of my life, to actually make some serious and significant systemic changes in terms of allowing people to work with dignity and be treated with dignity and paid decently as well as going after institutional racism, dealing with homophobia,” he said.
That sounds like a nominee to be enthusiastic about. But even if you can’t work up enthusiasm, do remember the alternative.
This is the most important election of our lives (no matter how many elections any of us have witnessed), as we absolutely cannot countenance another four years of Trump. Biden has an excellent chance of defeating him, but only if we all vote for him and persuade our friends and family to do the same.
So what's the message here? Vote, and volunteer if you can, as if your life, or at least your quality of life, depends on it. Because it does.
If you haven't registered to vote yet, there's still time. Head over to Vote.gov to begin the process.
Reporting by Trudy Ring and Michelle Garcia.
Read our exclusive interview in the July/August print edition.