Grading Elizabeth Warren's LGBTQ Record

Elizabeth Warren

With U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts officially announcing her 2020 presidential campaign Saturday, pundits are starting to debate whether this progressive Democrat is electable. There’s little to debate, however, about her support for LGBTQ rights— she has been a persistent champion.

Warren, a former Harvard Law School professor who helped establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has a long record of speaking out and working for all those who are underdogs — women, people of color, the economically disadvantaged — and LGBTQ people have definitely figured in her activism, which has an intersectional nature.

The senator, who began her second term this year, received a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard for her first term, which began in 2013. That reflects such positions as her cosponsorship of the Equality Act and other antidiscrimination bills, and her opposition to Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees — Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — as well as other anti-LGBTQ Trump nominees.

In 2017, the confirmation hearings on Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, produced one of Warren’s signature moments. Sessions, a longtime U.S. senator and, before that, an Alabama state official, has a long history of homophobia and has also been accused of racism. To highlight the latter point, Warren started reading the Senate a letter written to the body in 1986 by civil rights activist Coretta Scott King, urging senators to reject Sessions’s nomination as a federal judge because of his history of suppressing and intimidating black voters.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to cut her off, but, as he famously said, “Nevertheless, she persisted.” McConnell finally invoked a rule that forced Warren to stop, but the hashtag #ShePersisted became widely used in Warren’s honor. Sessions did get confirmed as attorney general (he had been rejected for the federal judgeship in 1986, by the way), but he’s now been ousted by Trump, who apparently considered him insufficiently loyal.

Warren has been persisting on social justice issues, including LGBTQ rights, for many years. In 2011, when she was beginning her first Senate campaign, she came out strongly for marriage equality, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (predecessor to the Equality Act), and measures to combat bullying in schools. “No one — no one — should be discriminated against because of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or religion,” she said at the time.

In March 2012, when President Obama was still “evolving” in his views on marriage equality, Warren said it was time for him to become fully evolved. “I want to see the president evolve because I believe that is right; marriage equality is morally right,” Warren told the Washington Blade. Two months later, the president expressed unequivocal support for marriage equality. He went on to be reelected in November, when Warren was elected to her first Senate term, beating Republican incumbent Scott Brown.

The 2012 campaign also featured an exception to Warren's pro-LGBTQ record, when she said that the court-ordered gender-confirmation surgery for a transgender prisoner was not a good use of tax dollars. Granted, the order was highly controversial, partly because the inmate was a convicted murderer. Three years later, in 2015, she was declining to say if her views had changed. Still, she has otherwise expressed strong support for the rights of trans people.

Her first year in office was marked by a speech to fellow senators urging them to pass ENDA, which would have banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. “This week we have a chance to vote on a law that is a measure of who we are as a people and what kind of world we want to build,” she said. “I believe in a world where equal means equal, and that is why I will be voting  to outlaw employment discrimination against my neighbors and my friends.” The Senate passed ENDA that year, but the bill never came to a vote in the House. The now-pending Equality Act includes the employment provisions of ENDA as well as bans on discrimination in housing, credit, and other areas.

Warren’s outspokenness on LGBTQ rights continued. In the summer of 2015, she wrote a commentary piece for Time magazine praising the Supreme Court’s recent marriage equality ruling. When looking at this equal marriage decision, Chief Justice John Roberts asserts that the Constitution ‘had nothing to do with it,’” she wrote. “He’s wrong. Our Constitution had everything to do with it — with the liberty of two adults to have their love treated the same as that of any other couple. And it is because of the tireless work of jurists, lawyers, husbands like Jim Obergefell, and countless other LGBT Americans who stepped forward to speak out, that our nation will no longer look away from what our Constitution requires.”

More recently, she has denounced Trump’s attempts to bar transgender people from the military, supported efforts to classify conversion therapy as fraud, and called for an end to discrimination against gay and bisexual men who wish to donate blood. When she announced earlier this year that she was forming the exploratory committee, making her the first Democrat to do so in this election cycle, she released a video that highlighted LGBTQ concerns and featured same-sex couples.

In January, she gave her first post-announcement interview to out MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow. The lengthy conversation dealt primarily with economic issues, the corruption of Trump's administration, and foreign policy. Watch it in three parts below.

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