Democrats are losing pro-LGBTQ candidates to sexism

Democrats are losing pro-LGBTQ candidates to sexism

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At a rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania on Dec. 10 — the same day Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Articles of Impeachment against him — President Trump targeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Warren has dipped in polls as the media has attacked her Medicare for All plan and her proposed wealth tax to get billionaires to pay their representative share of taxes. In Hershey, Trump referenced that drop, saying that Warren “was doing fine until she opened that fresh mouth of hers.”

The MAGA crowd cheered the blatant sexism.

Sexism has been rampant throughout the 2020 race. That it has targeted Democrats’ most pro-LGBTQ candidates should also be a cause for concern among queer voters. Who will represent LGBTQ concerns if the staunchest allies are no longer candidates?

This Democratic primary is historic. Six women candidates, including two women of color, is the most to ever to run in a primary. Only 10 women have ever run on a major party ticket prior to the 2020 race. Democrats also have the first out gay man to run for president.

But the two most pro-LGBTQ candidates, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) have suspended their campaigns. Now the long media knives are out for Warren, another staunchly pro-LGBTQ ally.

Misogyny and homophobia have long been interchangeable in mainstream media. Gay men have been treated like women in tropes for generations.

An op-ed piece about Pete Buttigieg in The New Republic referred to him as “Mary Pete” — playing on his nickname, Mayor Pete — musing on his preferred position of bottom in sex.

Women — and by extension, given those tropes, gay men — aren’t electable according to conventional wisdom. There has only been one woman nominee of a major party: Hillary Clinton, a former Secretary of State, former senator, former First Lady and formerly one of the top 100 attorneys in the country, prior to her political career.

Hillary was also the only First Lady or presidential nominee to ever march in a gay pride parade — in the New York Pride parade in 2000 and again in 2016. As Secretary of State, she made new rules to make it possible for trans people to get accurate passport documentation for travel.

Like Clinton, Harris brought a long resume to her presidential candidacy. Her withdrawal from the race Dec. 3 was a shock. The former Attorney General of California had been widely favored when she announced her run. Her launch in Oakland garnered a crowd of more than 20,000 — the largest in the race.

A charismatic figure and tough prosecutor, Harris drew national attention with her incisive questioning of Trump Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr, as well as Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. While questioning Kavanaugh, Harris repeatedly asked him if he viewed the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that legalized same-sex marriage as “a landmark civil rights case” equivalent to Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.

Harris asked several times. Kavanaugh declined to answer. “That’s a no, then?” was Harris’ response. That moment has been a Twitter gif ever since. Only the third Black woman to run for president (after Rep. Shirley Chisholm in 1972 and Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun in 1996), Harris rose to the top tier of candidates in June, but polls since August had her losing ground.

On Aug. 28, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) withdrew from the race. Despite being one of the top progressives in the Senate, Gillibrand’s feminist framing of her campaign never gained traction.

Harris and Gillibrand were also the most pro-LGBTQ candidates running. In 2004, as the DA of San Francisco, Harris was marrying lesbian and gay couples. Her fight against the “gay panic” defense was a game-changer among top prosecutors. Her refusal to support Prop 8, the anti-marriage equality measure in California in 2008, was viewed by both sides as pivotal. Harris was a star at the San Francisco Pride parade in June, rocking a rainbow-sequin jacket.

Gillibrand also has a long history of LGBTQ advocacy, with a particular focus on trans issues. In February, she brought a trans man naval lieutenant as her guest to Trump’s State of the Union address in protest of his ban on trans people serving in the military. She was photographed tending bar at a Pride event at a gay bar in Iowa in June for charity. She is the only member of Congress to address sexual assault of LGBTQ people in her focus on that issue.

Throughout her tenure in the Senate, Warren has also been vociferously pro-LGBTQ. Photos of her dancing in Pride marches with her characteristic rainbow feather boa have gone viral every year on social media. She has been a strong supporter of trans rights. Like Harris and Gillibrand, she has called attention to the killings of trans women of color.

At the Iowa LGBTQ Town Hall, Warren began her segment with a recitation of the names of all the trans women killed to date in 2019. It was incredibly powerful.

But Gillibrand was deemed “unlikable” and Harris “over-confident” — media tropes only used for women candidates. Negative media leads to negative polling, which in turn leads to diminished fundraising as voters are told that “women aren’t electable.”

The “likability test” applied to Hillary, Harris and Gillibrand is now impacting Warren, who said, “I hear women candidates are most likable in the quiet car!”

For LGBTQ voters the sexist double-standard is taking a toll: When the strongest and loudest allies are pushed out of the race, who will be left to speak for LGBTQ Americans? 

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