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Bernie Sanders Announces Presidential Bid With LGBTQ Focus

Bernie Sanders
Bernie 2020

The Vermont politician announced in a campaign video that he promises to fight homophobia, religious bigotry as president -- but are they sincere? 

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, in a campaign video announcing his candidacy for president in 2020, promised to make equality a major part of his message.

"Our campaign is about redoubling our efforts to end racism, sexism, homophobia, religious bigotry and all forms of discrimination," Sanders said.

Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, will seek the Democratic nomination again after a failed 2016 run. He ran against Hillary Clinton in the last cycle but lost in the primary. He later endorsed Clinton weeks after she won the nomination.

His campaign has touted Sanders as a leader on LGBTQ rights. It's something he stressed from the start of his campaign nearly four years ago -- but does he walk the walk or just talk?

As early as the 1970s, Sanders ran for office on a platform supporting gay rights. While campaigning for governor of Vermont on the Liberty Union party ticket, he sent out a letter opposing laws the discriminated against gays and lesbians.

"Let us abolish all laws which attempt to impose a particular brand of morality or 'right' on people. Let's abolish all laws dealing with abortion, drugs, sexual behavior (adultery, homosexuality, etc.)," he wrote.

As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he supported a Pride event as early as 1983, according to Politifact. In 1984, he made sure housing protections existed for people regardless of "his or her sexual preference."

And in 1995, Sanders made headlines three years after passage of Don't Ask Don't Tell for chastising a Republican colleague who criticized allowing "homos in the military."

"Was the gentleman referring to the many thousands and thousands of gay people who have put their lives on the line in countless wars defending this country?" Sanders said in a floor speech. "You have insulted thousands of men and women who have put their lives on the line."

As a U.S. representative in 1996, Sanders was one of just 67 congressmen to vote against the Defense Of Marriage Act. That's something he stressed to donors in Iowa nearly four years ago.

"There was a small minority opposed to discriminating against our gay brothers and sisters, and I am proud that I was one of those members," he said, according to Time.

But the publication also notes Sanders didn't vocally support marriage equality until 2009. It also notes that his opposition to DOMA built off a state's rights argument, not one of equal protection under the constitution.

In 1999, he supported civil unions through groundbreaking legislation in Vermont that he said then showed the state as "a leader in the struggle for human rights." But that was a far cry from marriage. As that debate occurred at the time in Vermont, Sanders stayed out of the conversation. He came under fire from the progressive press at the time for his silence.

"The Bern's gut-level paranoia is acting up," wrote Seven Dayspolitical writer Peter Freyne in 2000. "He's afraid to say something that might alienate his conservative, rebel-loving rural following out in the hills. Something that could be interpreted as 'Bernie Loves Queers!' "

Still, pro-Sanders forces say the long-time elected official remained years ahead of colleagues.

"Throughout his decades of public service, Bernie has voted against measures that impede the LGBTQ community's rights and has supported those that protect them from discrimination," write grassroots supporters at

Sanders for the past three years has maintained a 100-percent score on the Human Rights Campaign Congressional Scorecard since 2001.

And in an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert shortly after Donald Trump won the election in 2016, he stressed bringing marginalized groups together would be the key to fighting an extremist xenophic agenda.

"You're not going to split us up by attacking our Muslim friends, our gay friends, or women," he said then.

However, while he consistently discusses inclusion in his policies, he doesn't think they should apply to the presidency. In one of his first interviews after his 2020 announcement, the candidate argued against identity in the race.

"We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age," Sanders told VPR. "I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a non-discriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for."

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