Last week, a forum on queer rights was held featuring seven of the 10 candidates who attended the most recent Democratic debate. Three were absent: Andrew Yang, Beto O’Rourke and, most notably, Bernie Sanders. In their places were the unlikely-to-be-nominated trio of Marianne Williamson, Tulsi Gabbard and Joe Sestak. At this time, these candidates have abjectly no chance at winning the nomination. So while half the forum was candidates with no chance, Sanders, who has every chance to win, was notably absent.
It is important to note this is not the only forum on queer issues that will take place this election cycle. There is a second forum planned for October, and it is worth noting O’Rourke will be attending that one. Unfortunately, Sanders and Yang will be absent from that stage as well. While scheduling conflicts are understandable to some extent, managing to miss both forums is exceedingly problematic especially when seven of the top candidates have managed to make it to both forums.
These forums aren’t just lip service to queer folk. They’re also an important place for candidates to share policy ideas that protect queer citizens. The forum had several especially powerful moments; among those, Elizabeth Warren reading out the names of black transgender women who have been murdered this year was a hit across the board. Cory Booker also had a good performance, explaining his policy ideas included appointing an attorney general to protect queer citizens and an education secretary who “will stand up and protect every single one of our children.”
But the policies suggested were not the biggest story coming out of the forum. Nor were the biggest complaints, such as Biden’s very questionable responses and Williamson being frankly bizarre. Even Ben Carson’s incredibly cruel comments on transgender women on the eve of the forum did not manage to make him the primary story. Instead, queer social media focused mostly on the snub from Sanders. Sanders, who is known for being exceedingly progressive, was not someone the community would have predicted this from, and so it came off even worse.
There are many important issues facing queer people in America. Legalized discrimination in the workplace, medicine, housing and stores is still legal in more than half of states. Horrific levels of violence against transgender women, especially transgender women of color have resulted in long lists of the dead, including 18 killed already this year. Transgender children and teenagers in school still are often refused access to the correct name, pronouns and bathrooms, which contributes to transgender youth having incredibly high levels of depression and suicidal thoughts. Perhaps most horrifyingly, queer youth still make up a disproportionate amount, about 40 percent, of homeless youth in America, which means that just under 700,000 queer youth are homeless.
After three years of Trump, my bar for a candidate’s policies meant to protect me is painfully low. I want discrimination to be illegal — to be sure that my job won’t fire me or my landlord won’t evict me simply because I am queer. I want solutions to the violence against transgender women of color and to the homelessness crisis. But before any of those things can happen, our politicians have to care. They have to want to fix those issues rather than just talk about them. And when someone like Sanders, who is straight and cis, manages to miss two forums on queer issues, it starts to feel like he simply doesn’t care enough.
The queer vote might not be a large percent, but that doesn’t make it any less important, especially for progressive candidates. For someone like Sanders, who is relying on getting a massive turnout from liberal voters, perceived inaction for queer people is not a good look. Support for queer rights is one of the largest things for liberals in this day and age, and when you put the silence of Sanders next to people like Warren, who advocated legitimate policy ideas with compassion, that silence becomes even more deafening.
Ashton Stansel is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.