Sen. Kamala Harris — Photo: Gage Skidmore
This article is part of a series examining the LGBTQ-related histories of the main Democratic candidates for president.
Candidate: Kamala Harris
Political Office: U.S. Senator from California
Biggest LGBTQ achievement: Refusing to defend Proposition 8, setting the stage for marriage equality.
Current RCP polling average: 5th
Though now a U.S. Senator, presidential hopeful Kamala Harris cut her teeth at the local and state level when it comes to defending LGBTQ rights.
When she was first elected as the District Attorney for San Francisco County, Harris installed an LGBTQ hate crimes unit to work with victims and to prosecute those who commit bias-motivated crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Harris, a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage rights, spoke out against California’s Proposition 8 prior to its passage and, as Attorney General, refused to defend the ballot measure in court, saying she believed it to be unconstitutional. Her refusal to defend the ballot measure set the stage for the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2013 that anti-LGBTQ groups seeking to defend the measure had no standing to do so. As a result, Proposition 8 was overturned and marriage equality was legalized in California. That subsequently led to the high court’s much broader ruling legalizing marriage equality nationwide two years later.
As Attorney General, Harris also urged the legislature to outlaw the use of gay or trans “panic” defenses, which suggested that defendants were justified in carrying out violent crimes against members of the LGBTQ community due to discomfort with their sexual orientation or gender identity, in court.
Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016 and immediately assumed the role of foil to President Donald Trump, using her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee to fiercely question and oppose many of Trump’s cabinet federal bench nominees, one-third of whom held blatantly anti-LGBTQ records, according to Lambda Legal.
As senator, Harris introduced legislation to ensure that LGBTQ Americans were properly counted in the census and in 2018 introduced the Do No Harm Act to prevent the use of religious beliefs as justification for discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
She was one of 19 senators who spoke out against the Trump administration’s removal of LGBTQ health-related information from federal websites, and announced her support for the Equality Act and for allowing transgender people equal access public accommodations, including to restrooms that match their gender identity.
On her official campaign website, Harris vows to sign the Equality Act into law should she be elected president. She has also promised to reinstate Obama-era executive actions protecting federal contractors from discrimination, allowing transgender homeless people to access emergency shelters consistent with their gender identity, and prohibiting discrimination by hospitals that receive federal dollars.
Harris is on record as supporting a third gender option for nonbinary individuals on federal identification cards and documents — a move that has already enjoyed some success at the state and local levels.
She has spoken out against and promises to reverse Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. And she has promised to appoint an Attorney General who will prioritize investigating and prosecuting anti-LGBTQ bias crimes and invest money in ensuring local police departments receive proper training on how to interact with members of the LGBTQ community.
Bernie Sanders: Where does he stand on LGBTQ rights?
Elizabeth Warren: Where does she stand on LGBTQ rights?
Joe Biden: Where does he stand on LGBTQ rights?