Metro Weekly

Joe Biden claimed homophobia was acceptable in Seattle five years ago. His audience disagreed.

Biden was arguing that public acceptance had advanced rapidly in recent years, but his "gay waiter" story was met with backlash

Vice President Joe Biden, Credit: Kenton / Flickr

Former Vice President Joe Biden reportedly received a stony response at a Seattle fundraiser after he claimed that homophobia was acceptable in the city five years ago.

Speaking at the home of public relations executive Roger Nyhus — considered a leader in the city’s gay community — the 2020 Democratic hopeful was arguing that public sentiment towards LGBTQ people had progressed far in a short space of time.

Biden, a vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights, told the 50 or so people at the fundraiser that “if someone at a business meeting in Seattle made fun of a gay waiter [five years ago] people would just let it go.”

But the comment reportedly fell flat, with some in the crowd responding, “Not in Seattle,” and others pushing back on the notion that homophobia was acceptable in the city in 2014.

Biden continued his argument, adding that if someone displayed similar homophobia today, “that person would not be invited back.”

However, the timing of Biden’s hypothetical in 2014 makes little sense in context — Washington state has had anti-discrimination protections since 2006 and same-sex marriage since 2012.

Furthermore, as political strategist and MSNBC contributor Aisha Moodie-Mills noted on Twitter, Seattle had a gay mayor in 2014 — and Jenny Durkan, the city’s current mayor, is lesbian.

Moodie-Mills added: “Folksy is becoming foolhardy. Think [Biden] needs a time out to regroup.”

Politico‘s Dan Diamond also pointed out that Biden had made a similar “gay waiter” comment in 2014 — except he had set his hypothetical encounter in 1999.

Speaking at the Make Progress National Summit in 2014, Biden noted the speed with which public sentiment had moved forward on LGBTQ issues.

Per US News:

Biden…set a scene. It’s 15 years earlier and a group of businesswomen and men are at a restaurant for lunch. “And a waiter with a distinct lisp came up and asked for their order and someone said, ‘Well let me tell you what I’d like,'” Biden said, feminizing his voice and pretending to be a restaurant patron picking on the waiter. “Everyone around that table, although they thought it was awful, wouldn’t say anything.” Because, as Biden put it, this was “appropriate behavior” – the consensus would have been that it’s OK to make fun of someone who is gay….

“Imagine what would happen today in any major city in America if some horse’s tail said that at a luncheon?” Biden mused. “Everyone else at that table would turn around and say, ‘What in the hell are you talking about man?'”

During the rest of the Seattle fundraiser, Biden reiterated his campaign’s core argument that he is best suited to take on Donald Trump in a general election.

He also elaborated on his support for same-sex marriage during the Obama administration. The former vice president’s public comments in support of marriage equality in 2012 are widely credited with pushing former President Barack Obama to publicly support same-sex marriage, the first time a sitting president had done so.

He recalled telling White House advisers at the time that “the American people are so far ahead of their leaders on this issue,” something polling would later reflect.

Biden also told the fundraising crowd that more needed to be done to protect LGBTQ people, noting that in 22 states across America, gay people could get married one day and then fired for being gay the next.

The Democratic frontrunner also addressed the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, after recently visiting the Stonewall Inn to commemorate the event. “Think of the incredible, physical, moral courage it took to stand up and fight back,” he said.

While Biden is still leading polls among Democratic candidates for president, his campaign suffered a major stumble during the first debates last week.

The sharpest exchange of the night came when Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) confronted Biden over his support of an anti-busing bill, bringing up her own experience as a child attending school in Berkeley, Calif.

“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day, and that little girl was me,” Harris said.

Biden pushed back, arguing that Harris had mischaracterized his position on busing, telling her she would have been able to attend school because a federal anti-busing bill he had promoted had left it up to local governments and school boards to decide whether to bus children away from their neighborhood schools in an attempt to integrate the public school system.

“I did not oppose busing in America,” Biden said. “What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education.”

But Harris countered, saying that the federal government needed to step in when localities refused to integrate schools.

Harris also attacked Biden for remarks he made regarding his effectiveness in getting legislation passed by working with senators with whom he disagreed, including avowed segregationists. She called his remarks “hurtful.”

But Biden pushed back against the notion that he was endorsing those senators’ views by working alongside them on other non-racial issues. He added that “if we want to have this campaign litigated on who supports civil rights and whether I did or not, I’m happy to do that.”

Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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