Bernie Sanders – Photo: Gage Skidmore.
This article is part of a series examining the LGBTQ-related histories of the main Democratic candidates for president.
Candidate: Bernie Sanders
Political Office: U.S. Senator from Vermont
Biggest LGBTQ achievement: Voting against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.
Current RCP polling average: 3rd
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic socialist who identifies as a political independent but caucuses with Democrats, has a long record of supporting LGBTQ rights throughout his political career.
In 1983, as the Mayor of Burlington, Vt., Sanders signed a proclamation recognizing a “Gay Rights Day,” which featured the city’s first-ever Gay Pride Parade.
After being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Sanders opposed attempts at allowing anti-LGBTQ discrimination, notably becoming one of only 81 members of Congress (67 in the House, 14 in the Senate) who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal recognition to same-sex relationships in 1996.
In 1999, he voted against Republican attempts to ban same-sex couples in D.C. from adopting children.
Sanders subsequently continued to stand up for LGBTQ rights in Congress, particularly with regard nondiscrimination bills. In 2004 and 2006, he voted against proposals for a constitutional amendment that would have outlawed same-sex marriage.
As a member of the U.S. Senate, Sanders has voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and an LGBTQ-inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act that included protections for same-sex survivors of domestic violence.
He spoke out in favor of marriage equality prior to the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing it, and has advocated for protections for LGBTQ students in schools.
Sanders’ support has been reflected in his ratings from the Human Rights Campaign on its Congressional Scorecard. He has received perfect 100% ratings during the 115th, 114th, and 113th Congresses, and has maintained similar records during past election cycles since being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006.
On his campaign website, Sanders touts his support for the Equality Act, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act — which would prohibit foster care and adoption agencies that actively discriminate against same-sex couples and other prospective parents from receiving federal funds — and other measures to prohibit various forms of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
Sanders, who has made Medicare for All a central component of his campaign, has vowed to ensure that insurance providers do not discriminate against LGBTQ people in a way that would prevent them from receiving comprehensive health insurance and being able to access LGBTQ-competent and gender-affirming care.
He was among a group of 18 senators who wrote a letter to the State Department questioning its commitment to LGBTQ rights, its lack of recognition for LGBTQ Pride Month, and its recent directives prohibiting rainbow Pride flags from being flown on official U.S. embassy flagpoles.
On the domestic front, Sanders supports fighting discrimination against LGBTQ people by creditors and banks, so they are not unfairly denied mortgages, credit cards, or loans, and has vehemently opposed legislation carving out religious exemptions — such as the First Amendment Defense Act — that purport to “protect” the religious liberty of people who hold anti-LGBTQ beliefs.
Sanders has also stated he supports police departments that adopt comprehensive policies and training on how best to deal with transgender individuals, especially transgender women of color, who have historically been targeted by police, particularly those transgender people who engage in survival sex work.
However, Sanders is the only major candidate to not attend either of the main LGBTQ-focused Democratic candidate events, skipping an LGBTQ presidential forum sponsored by GLAAD on Sept. 20, and thus far not confirming his attendance at an HRC and CNN-sponsored town hall on LGBTQ issues on Oct. 10.
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Joe Biden: Where does he stand on LGBTQ rights?