In this op-ed series published exclusively on Out.com, LGBTQ+ people discuss their support for the major contenders in the 2020 presidential primaries. Participating candidates include Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bloomberg, Julián Castro, and Cory Booker, and one editorial will be published every weekday. In today’s installment, Victoria Rodriguez-Roldán, a prominent trans and disability advocate, explains why she believes Bernie Sanders should be the next president of the United States.
If there is one thing my mother taught me, it was to advocate for progressive justice. She helped found the Puerto Rico Teachers Federation and had been active in progressive politics throughout her young adulthood. When I realized I was trans as a teenager, my dedication to advocate for a world where no one has to be scared when they come out was a given. It was my duty. My mom struggled to accept my trans identity, but I owe my commitment to social justice to her.
As a full-time trans activist, a key question I have when it comes to supporting a candidate is their commitment to the LGBTQ+ community. This election season we have a dizzying array of candidates, all of whom are vying for the chance to run against and defeat Donald Trump. The vast majority of these candidates have also pledged their support for the LGBTQ+ community and its causes, so at first glance the decision on who to vote for may seem daunting. For me, it was a no-brainer: Bernie Sanders is the best candidate both to advocate for the queer community and to defeat Donald Trump in 2020.
Bernie’s record speaks for itself. Unlike other candidates with similarly long records in public service, Bernie has advocated for LGBTQ+ rights and justice throughout his political career. As mayor of Burlington, Bernie supported the city’s first-ever Pride March in 1983. In Congress, he voted against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. At a time when support for the community by national politicians was rare and required going against the current, Bernie stood with us.
Bernie understands the need to address inequality and poverty in America. Right now, LGBTQ+ people — especially people of color — face the brunt of those issues when they’re compounded by discrimination and systemic oppression. According to the U.S. Trans Survey, transgender people are three times more likely to be making less than $10,000 a year. The Williams Institute, a pro-LGBTQ+ think tank at the University of California Los Angeles, additionally estimates that over one in five LGBTQ+ people live in poverty, with the figure being one in three for transgender people.
This is the direct result of discrimination and abuse in the employment setting, and it leads to higher rates of housing instability and homelessness. It is essential for any administration that is pro-LGBTQ+ to also have a strong compass for economic justice.
Another issue that is essential to our community — one that candidates must commit to — is criminal justice reform. Right now, transgender people of color face extremely high rates of profiling and criminalization by law enforcement, subjecting them to the corruption and mass inequality of America’s criminal justice system. Bernie has the most progressive criminal justice reform platform of any candidate. His agenda takes on the prison-industrial complex by pledging to cut the prison population in half and end the failed War on Drugs, by banning private prisons and detention centers, and by putting a stop to the cash bail system and profiteering from locking people up.
Our community needs a president who recognizes the need for a genuinely reformed criminal system that works for everyone, not just the privileged few who can afford the best justice money can buy.
Closely tied to the criminal justice system is America’s immigration system, which sees many transgender immigrants who come to America seeking asylum or face certain death if deported to their countries of origin. Bernie proposes breaking up Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol as agencies — entities that have caused nothing but pain, misery, and death to queer immigrants. His plan includes eliminating discrimination that LGBTQ+ families face throughout immigration laws, including making sure that all children born to U.S. citizen parents have acquired citizenship, regardless of a biological relationship.
Not only do our corrupt criminal justice and immigration systems disproportionately disadvantage the LGBTQ+ community, but transgender people also face an uphill battle with America’s health care system. In a 2015 survey, a quarter of all transgender people reported problems with their insurance due to being trans, such as denial of coverage for transition-related treatment. Over a third of respondents in that survey reported negative experiences with health care providers as a result of their gender identity, such as harassment, abuse, derogatory language, or even outright refusal of treatment. Many transgender people routinely postpone seeking health care because they either can’t afford it or because they fear mistreatment from healthcare providers.
Right now, we see assaults on Medicaid and insurance coverage for the trans community, and the Trump administration has laid siege to the non-discrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Medicare for All is a life or death issue for our community. We need access to the essential health care that we need, when we need it, and free from discrimination or gatekeeping by for-profit insurance companies. No one should go without the health care they need because they cannot afford it.
Bernie is committed to guaranteeing comprehensive, free at point-of-service health care to everyone. His Medicare for All plan would not only confront the massive health disparities faced by the LGBTQ+ community, it would cover gender affirming surgeries, increase access to PrEP, remove barriers to mental health care, and bolster suicide prevention efforts. Bernie’s plan clearly states that LGBTQ+ people cannot be discriminated against by providers or denied health benefits.
Bernie Sanders is not only the best candidate to beat Trump, he is also the best candidate for LGBTQ+ people. For decades, Bernie has been brave enough to offer a vision for our community that is founded on the premise that we have a moral responsibility to ensure that all Americans have the chance to contribute to society, live with dignity, and achieve a high quality of life.
Note: The opinions expressed are the author’s personal views and do not represent the institutional views of their organization.
Victoria Rodriguez-Roldán is the Trans/Gender Non-Conforming Justice Project Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force. Her work focuses on the intersections of issues affecting transgender people with disabilities and mental illness, anti- trans workplace discrimination, and gun violence prevention from a social justice lens. Victoria is the author of Valuing Transgender Applicants and Employees and was named the Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s 2016 Ally of the Year Award. Prior to joining the Task Force, she worked as an Equal Opportunity Specialist for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center. Victoria is a national surrogate for the Bernie 2020 campaign.