Bernie Sanders and the LGBTQ Community


On Saturday, May 21st the North Carolina Democratic Party held its thirteen congressional district conventions, which among its long list of ordinary party business elected its Clinton and Sanders delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

I was honored to be elected as a male delegate from the fourth congressional district for Senator Bernie Sanders and I paid close attention to candidates and those who won across the state to be delegates for Sanders and Clinton.

Ready for HillaryA number of gay men won as delegates across the state for Hillary Clinton and her authorized representative for the North Carolina Delegate selection process was Judge John S. Arrowood, who was the first openly gay man to serve on the Appellate Court in North Carolina.

While social issues such as gay marriage have evolved since the culture wars of the 1990’s and gained more mainstream acceptance as evidenced by a 55% approval rating nationwide, by and large issues like wealth and income inequality have not been pushed with the same fervor in the party as civil rights and identity politics.  

This is ironic, since one of our icons, Martin Luther King, Jr. had this to say on April 4th, 1967 about the topic:

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin—we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Naturally, concurring with Dr. King would demand a real and sustained critique of neoliberal economic policy, which has unfortunately remained on the back burner for a large number of elected Democrats and adherents to the centrist “third way” philosophy.  (Third Way is an approach that has its roots in the beliefs of  Al From, the Democratic Leadership Council and the leadership of President Bill Clinton in the 1990’s. )

This failure to critique neoliberalism strangely coincides with a number of gay men in the Democratic Party supporting leaders such as former North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who were late to support gay rights and were relatively weak on the underlying structural issues we face in America and worldwide such as wealth and income inequality.

I am unsure of whether there is a link, but the conundrum inspired me to ask a range of openly gay men who were politically active why it appeared that the LGBTQ community was in the tank for Hillary, when it was obvious to me that Bernie was not only good on LGBTQ issues, but also far better on the underlying structural economic issues that affect a vast majority of Americans and members of the LGBTQ community.

Below is the ensuing dialogue:

Jim: I have no clue. It would take an anthropologist to figure that one out. Her record on equality in and of itself will be something I never forget. Then throw in all of her neoliberal dogma and I can’t breath!

Me: Perhaps it’s empathy for being embattled for so long?

Troy:  It’s really not that difficult to see when you understand that idolatry of female celebrities has been a strong LGBT community binder for decades. Hillary has been nothing short of a celebrity since the 1990s, symbolizing feminine power and performance that the gays are gaga for. Whenever I witness gay men fawning over Hillary, it’s normally some variation of how “fabulous” she is with little or no substance to back up why they support her ideologically other than she’s a powerful woman who fights for what she wants. An empowering femininity is empowering to LGBT people as a backlash to a lifetime of patriarchy.

It really comes down to identity. I can’t exactly speak for *all* of the LGBT community, but so far I’ve seen almost exclusive support for Bernie from trans-individuals. I think that might say something. All of these gay men I see willing to die by the sword for Hillary are overwhelmingly middle to upper middle class, white, heteronormative, and benefit from the exact neoliberal economic policies she will uphold.

But that’s just my bias based on what I’ve witnessed over the past two years since all of that “I’m Ready for Hillary” campaign propaganda started circulating on social media.

Jim:  Well put. I think your point on the gay cohort who support her is spot on: a backlash against patriarchy.  Would they (gay community) have fallen on the sword for Maggie Thatcher or Angela Merkel? I think not.  This is something uniquely American.  For the LGBTQ community HRC has actually been more like an oppressor; likewise for the black community.

People believe what they want to believe; propaganda works….I’ve had guys say awful crap to me when I dared to call her out. I’m ready to turn my gay card in.

Troy: Yeah, I agree. I don’t quite understand why LGBT Americans are having this problem, other than the Clinton Machine’s eagerly received propaganda. I am sorry that happened to you. I don’t know how I would have handled the situation myself. I feel embarrassed to see so many gay “liberal” tools out there cheering for Hillary, then calling out anyone who supports Bernie as privileged and unrealistic, willing to risk the livelihoods of oppressed peoples. It’s ironic as f@$% and it infuriates me.

Jim: She’s framed as a martyr rather than a cunning opportunist who shills for the elite. Her sense of entitlement lands her in hot water, and that allows her to pivot into the role of the victim. I could- if I didn’t try and restrain myself- cite five instances in which she has danced on or stepped over the lines of extraordinarily bad judgment, greed and/or breaches of integrity.

Jeffrey: In 1991 a group of us in New York City started the Empire State Pride Agenda, which was a PAC devoted to LGBT issues in Albany. Each year we had a glitzy fundraiser with a big Democratic speaker. This culminated with Bill Clinton (as President) followed by HRC. In the nineties we all considered ourselves liberal without much scrutiny to the actual policies that were going down.

While I agree with the notions that have developed during this campaign regarding the Clintons, I didn’t always feel that way. I can remember crying while in a car listening to Bill Clinton speak about gays in the military. I had never heard a President acknowledge gay people’s service to the country or really at all. I’m not defending them, but putting some context to why the gays (of a certain age) at least here NYC are loyal. I believe she replaced Alfonse D’ Amato as senator. (Note: Chuck Schumer replaced Senator D’Amato, while Clinton replaced Daniel Patrick Moynihan.)

My experience is that many people think that Sanders holds extreme positions and that she’s an old hand–which is precisely the problem. If she was running against a “credible” Republican (whatever that is) instead of “Drumpf”, she would be in “deep sheet”.

Troy:  But as far as your question goes about why we are so alienated, despite our similar identities as white and privileged, the only idea I have might be that this election has teased out factions of the left, isolating the marxists and capitalists or social capitalists.

Jim:  Her “left” and “liberals” are in fact moderates or neoliberals.

Troy: Right. This is why I point out the unifying whiteness and gender ID corresponding to biological sex with the privileged intersection of LGBT Hillary supporters, because these social classes all benefit from neoliberal/capitalist society.

But I think your question is more important: why are there foils to this impression like us growing in number? Still have to figure that one out. Maybe a few years of post-election analysis will get the word out once people have realized what a corporate shill she is.

Jim: Or maybe not… I’m channeling a Joan of Arc exit.

Troy: Christ. You’re right of course.

Jim: James Comey has the torch, but there is no way in hell it will happen. She (HRC) could grab a baby from its mother’s arms and eat its brain and she wouldn’t be indicted.  And they would still vote for her.  The narrative would be “she was malnourished and thought it was a sandwich.”

Troy: Yeah, Comey has a good record on being bipartisan with his investigations, leading to charges for both sides. The chances Attorney General Loretta Lynch or President Obama will let any indictment happen are nearly zero, though every day I wake up hoping for an early Christmas from the FBI.

But I totally agree with you.

Another thing I’ll never understand is why the hell nothing ever sticks to her. That propaganda machine is well-oiled. Sheep.

Thanks for the insight, Jeffrey. I’m a young gay so I don’t have this perspective. I just see a bunch of twenty-somethings braying for her because “she’s fab” and “we need a woman president”.

Jim: My love affair with Clinton ended with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). I was on the west coast at the time and we formed a PAC called Angel (organized by Bill’s gay guy David Mixner) . We gave Clinton $70K at a private reception right after the NH primary in 1991. He cried. Months later I was at another fundraiser with Mixner (see)- an old friend of Bill’s. Clinton did his “I feel your pain” stump speech. I turned to David and said “isn’t he great?” David is a BIG man. He grabbed me by the collar and stared me in straight in the eye and said “He’s a politician first and foremost. He’ll sell your rights and mine down the stream so quick it will make your head spin. Don’t ever forget that.”

After Clinton signed DADT, Mixner was arrested after handcuffing himself to the White House gate.  And I’ve never forgotten.

Also, the kids routinely tell me that the “gays with money” are for HRC.

Troy: That’s what I witness too. Specifically the people that come to mind are a lawyer, a real estate agent, and a hospital administrator.

Jim: More like 7 to 8 billionaires, 120 hedge fund managers, 75 entrepreneurs and every fashionista

Jeffrey: That’s the NYC demographic.

The previous dialogue was with two Sanders supporters and a someone who leaned Sanders.  Here is what a prominent Democratic member of the transgender community who leans Sanders said about Secretary Clinton and the Democratic Presidential Primary:

Janice:  I know it’s crazy but the gays seem to like her (HRC). She lied about supporting gay marriage and She flip-flopped (on issues), but it seems that people who don’t speak the truth always win. Honey, I have been so busy with our stupid ass governor (McCrory) I a’int had time for nothing and I just did my nails so I am sorry for my bad typing.

Janice was referring to North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and House Bill 2 otherwise known on the street as “Hate Bill 2” and she was a transgender delegate to the Democratic National Convention in  2012.

Finally, I have insights from gay Democratic Party leaders and elected officials who support Secretary Clinton:

Mark: I cannot speak for all LGBTQ people.  There are many who support Sanders in this race, but I and many others are strong Clinton supporters in part because we appreciated her strong support of the community when she was in a capacity to actually make a difference in the lives of LGBT people.  I believe she is the only candidate left in the race who has the skills to make real change on LGBT issues and the full array of other issues all Democrats are concerned about.  I DO NOT believe that support for Clinton is equal to disdain or a lack of appreciation for Sanders.  There is a great deal of gratitude for the work he has done as well.  I think for many it comes down to two individuals who largely share the same views on LGBT issues and that the tie is broken by the higher degree of confidence in Clinton’s ability to actually create change.

Wayne: Let me start with the following caveat, the LGBTQ community is not a monolith. It is comprised of many different people from many different places, races, and genders. So for me to presume to speak for this group as whole would be an error. However, I can give some of my own thoughts and observations. I think one of the main reasons that the LGBTQ community for the most part supports Hillary over Bernie is that we can identify with her struggle.

She is constantly attacked, questioned, and lied about every day of her life. Something with which we can identify.

She has struggled against these things and prevailed.

To some extent we can see our own struggle in hers.

And to be quite honest the Bernie people turned me off. The vitriol, the attacks, the personal insults hurled at me were enough to show me who his supporters were. And maybe we’re also tired of being ruled by straight white men. After all it was the first Black President who spoke the words of our equality in his second Inaugural Address.  And it was he (Obama) who got rid of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

John: I can’t say that that I can give a definitive answer. I think it is a combination of things. When the Secretary was at the State Department she had a history of and a reputation for being extremely LGBT friendly and making the policies for the foreign service members and other employees very gay friendly. This was bolstered by her UN speech in Geneva where she strongly proclaimed that Human Rights are Gay Rights and that Gay Rights are Human Rights. I think this combined with the campaign’s early outreach to the LGBT Community including a gay couple in her announcement video was powerful.  In addition, it probably didn’t hurt that she had an openly Gay man as her campaign manager (Robby Mook) something that had never happened before. As I said, I am not sure I can give you a reason, but I think these are significant.

Although these are anecdotal insights, it appears that establishment gay men favor Hillary because of a belief that she shares in their struggle as a woman in a male dominated (patriarchal society) and that she has been friendly to LGBTQ issues while in power as the Secretary of State, while the Sanders supporters among the gay community tend to focus on her character over a longer period of time, her adherence to neoliberal economic dogma along with Bernie’s drive to rid the political process of big money and his willingness to address wealth and income inequality and the need for a single payer health care system.


Randolph Voller

Randolph “Randy” Voller is the former Chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party and the Chatham County Democratic Party as well as a four-term mayor of Pittsboro, NC. Randy has provided leadership on several local, regional, and state boards including as chairman of the Triangle Area Rural Planning Organization, and membership on the boards of the NC Housing Finance Agency, Advanced Energy Corporation, the North Carolina Juvenile Justice Grants Committee, the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation , the Chatham County Affordable Housing Task Force and Solid Waste Advisory Board, among others. Randy is a Leadership Triangle Goodmon Fellow, a 2010 Marshall Memorial Fellow (GMF) and a 1991 graduate of Indiana University, Bloomington with a degree in History, a minor in East Asian Studies and a member of the honors program. He also participated in the Latino Initiative with the UNC Center for International Understanding in 2010 and was twice named a "Home Town Hero" by WCHL. In 2009 Voller received the Carl E. Thompson distinguished service award from the Chatham County Human Relations Commission, and in 2013 the West Chatham NAACP awarded Voller their Humanitarian Service Award along with Chatham County’s School Superintendent, Robert Logan. Voller grew up in Northwest Indiana with his father Lot, his mother Viktoria, sisters Meredith and Cynthia and maternal grandfather Harry Danning. He is a graduate of Andrean High School and has resided in North Carolina since 1991. He lives in Pittsboro with his wife Lesley Landis and their chocolate labrador Karma.

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