After staying neutral during the Democratic primary for president, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) on May 6 threw its support behind former Vice President Joe Biden with six months to go until the general election.
“Vice President Joe Biden is the leader our community and our country need at this moment,” HRC president Alphonso David said in a written announcement. “His dedication to advancing LGBTQ equality, even when it was unpopular to do so, has pushed our country and our movement forward. This November, the stakes could not be higher.”
The endorsement of a major LGBTQ rights organization is a boost for Biden at a time when his candidacy has been confronted with allegations of sexual assault dating back to his days in the Senate in 1993 when a former aide, Tara Reade, said he put her against a wall, kissed her on the neck, reached under her skirt, and penetrated her with his fingers — and she has also charged she faced retaliation when she tried blowing the whistle.
That allegation has dogged recent public discussion about his candidacy and led some to call out the hypocrisy of Democrats who have remained silent on the issue after sounding the alarms in the #MeToo era about allegations surrounding conservatives like Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The HRC endorsement, then, offers a respite from that unflattering spotlight. The allegation by Reade, which Biden has denied, was not addressed in a livestreamed chat between Biden and David the evening of the HRC endorsement.
In welcoming the group’s nod, Biden used the discussion with David to outline his LGBTQ agenda, vowing to prioritize the passage of the Equality Act, restore the Obama-era protections for LGBTQ students, protect transgender women of color in response to an explosion of deadly violence nationwide, expand access to mental health services, and direct the Department of Justice to prosecute hate crimes, among other initiatives.
Biden went on to blast the Trump administration for banning transgender people from the military, rejecting the right of trans people to enter homeless shelters appropriate to their gender identity, attempting to gut LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, and other actions detrimental to the community.
“The White House shouldn’t be a source of oppression and fear,’ Biden said. “It should be a source of moral courage.”
As the Supreme Court prepares to announce a pair of decisions regarding whether sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes under the Title VII employment nondiscrimination protections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Biden stressed that Americans must be informed about the fact that in many states queer Americans could get married on a weekend and fired on the following Monday.
“It’s critical that the president make it clear that [LGBTQ] discrimination exists,” Biden said. “I’m going to make [passing the Equality Act] a priority in my first 100 days.”
That bill’s fate hinges on whether Democrats are able to regain control of the Senate, which Biden described as “the single most consequential thing we can do, besides getting Trump out of office.”
David asked Biden how he would address access to healthcare — a major issue for LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities who were already disproportionately affected by pricey health insurance plans before the coronavirus crisis erupted and now face even greater hardship. Because many of those health insurance plans were tied to employment, numerous individuals who lost their jobs due to the pandemic also lost their health insurance coverage altogether. Others have had to pay hundreds of dollars per month in Obamacare premiums, including many gig economy workers who have toiled on the frontlines of the pandemic.
Still, Biden defended the landmark law that was passed during his time in the Obama administration.
“Obamacare was a big deal,” said Biden, who pointed to the law’s protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. “Now [the Trump administration] is literally in court trying to gut the whole law.”
Biden maintained his longstanding argument that building on Obamacare and offering a “Medicare-like” public option is the fastest way to achieve universal healthcare.
The discussion also touched on Biden’s pivotal endorsement of same-sex marriage in 2012, just before President Barack Obama voiced his own support for marriage equality in the six months leading up to the administration’s re-election victory over Republican Mitt Romney. The HRC endorsement came on the eighth anniversary of the former vice president’s statement.
“What I did eight years ago took no courage,” Biden said. “What took courage was 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago, when people had the courage to stand up and speak out.”
Among other priorities, Biden called for making it easier for transgender and non-binary folks to update the gender marker on government-issued documents. He also vowed to appoint pro-equality judges to federal courts, saying he would seek out justices “that will support civil rights protections and defend people’s rights to be themselves.”
The discussion largely steered clear of issues regarding the coronavirus pandemic, but Biden in emphasizing the importance of ensuring access to voting, noted that health risks may still exist in November in visiting public polling places and called for expanded options for early voting by mail.
HRC’s presidential endorsement came much later this cycle than in 2016, when the organization backed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president in January of that year — well before her contest against Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was decided. In a press release announcing the endorsement, HRC praised Biden’s work in Congress — namely his support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and early support for HIV/ AIDS programs — and his efforts as vice president to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and help pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
HRC is ramping up its get-out-the-vote efforts, deploying at least 45 full-time staff across seven target states — Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin — and 20 more staff members in a second tier of states.
“HRC and our more than three million members and supporters will work day and night to ensure he is the next president of the United States,” David said.
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