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My Turn: Sanders stood by LGBT community when it wasn’t so easy to do

For the Monitor
Last modified: 2/5/2016 12:46:19 AM
On June 26, 2015, we made history when the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, overturned the Defense of Marriage Act signed by President Bill Clinton in Obergefell v. Hodges. We now live in a nation where gays and lesbians can marry the person they love.

Although we still have work to do to end LGBT discrimination, especially against transgender people, the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges was a beautiful victory in a long, hard-fought struggle fueled by the most powerful force in human existence: love.

The long road to marriage equality truly began during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Our community learned in the most abrupt, excruciating way the cost of being unable to marry. Partners of AIDS patients were often ejected from hospital rooms, forbidden to see their loved ones or make health decisions.

Then, after watching the people they loved die, surviving partners were further traumatized. Because they had no legal rights, many people were evicted from the homes they shared with their late partners, had community property and money taken from them, and were denied the basic dignity of grieving and participating at their loved ones’ funerals.

I lost friends during this time. Their memory has been a driving force in my personal fight for marriage equality and LGBT rights. The fight has never been easy, but it has always been one worth waging. There was opposition every step of the way and always the voices telling me it could not be done. They said it would never happen, it was unrealistic, a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. But that’s what they always say isn’t it? The voices of “can’t” and “don’t try” told me of the harm I was causing and had dire warnings of the elections that would be lost. The ground we would lose, how things would get worse. I never listen to those who tell me not to fight for what I believe in because they’re wrong.

There was only one way for us to lose the fight and that was not to wage it in the first place.

I remember at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, those of us in LGBT community did not have many friends. Only a few brave souls outside our community were willing to stand with us. At a time when an entire generation of gay men was being struck down in the prime of their lives, we desperately needed allies. We had very few.

It was so bad that here in New Hampshire and in state houses across the country we had to fight bills that proposed to forcibly quarantine HIV-positive people. I remember fighting the bill that would make donating blood a class B felony, and a state senator saying he didn’t mind if we donated our blood as long as we gave every last drop. This is the treatment we got from elected officials.

At the same time across the Connecticut River, then-Mayor of Burlington Bernie Sanders was banning housing discrimination against gays and lesbians, and signing city proclamations for Burlington’s Gay Pride march.

Later, in Congress, he was one of only 67 members to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, with 342 members of Congress voting for it and President Clinton signing it into law. I remember how he called out another member of Congress on the House floor when that member, Duke Cunningham, used a homophobic slur about LGBT people serving in the military. I remember when Vermont passed civil unions and how he supported that earth-shattering first step. Bernie Sanders was one of the first senators to come out publicly in support of full marriage equality.

I am grateful that all our candidates have evolved on the issues; that’s not something to make light of. But I am more grateful for those elected officials who stood with us when it wasn’t easy to do so.

It is true that Bernie Sanders’s primary focus over the course of his career has been economic issues (which certainly affect the LGBT community as well). But at the end of the day, Bernie has always done the right thing by our community. He has never voted the wrong way on the issues affecting us. He has never advocated for policies that have caused immeasurable harm to our community, like the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Bernie Sanders has stood with the LGBT community for over 30 years. But more importantly, he stood with us when it really mattered. When it was not sexy or cool.

When it was politically dangerous. When we desperately needed friends, he was there.

The cascade of support for our community in recent years could not have happened without the foundation of courage and support by allies who were ahead of their time, like Bernie. The victories we celebrated could not have been won if we hadn’t tried; if we believed the voices that told us, “It can’t done.” I know I speak for many in the LGBT community when I say am so thankful for the millions of people who have evolved on issues of marriage equality and LGBT rights, including Secretary Clinton, who began supporting marriage equality in 2013.

But when it comes to deciding who should hold the presidency, we should not play out the story of the prodigal son. We should vote for a candidate who shares our values, is a visionary, who has political courage, and has shown superb judgment, as proven by history. That candidate is Bernie Sanders.

(Mo Baxley is a former state representative, former executive director of N.H. Freedom to Marry and a member of the New Hampshire for Bernie steering committee.)


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