Sanders fundraised for congressional candidates running against gay men. Does that matter?

Bernie Sanders recently sent out an email urging supporters to donate to three congressional candidates who have endorsed his presidential campaign: Lucy Flores (running for Nevada’s 4th District), Pramila Jaypal (Washington’s 7th) and Zephyr Teachout (New York’s 19th). The email represents Sanders’s first effort to fundraise for down-ballot races, and came amid criticism that he had not yet done so.

However, as the Washington Blade pointed out yesterday, two of the candidates Sanders raised money for are running against three openly gay candidates in their respective primaries. Teachout will face off on Tuesday against Will Yandik, who is described by the Blade as “an openly gay farmer and Livingston deputy town supervisor who recently had a child with his same-sex spouse.” Jaypal is running against two openly gay candidates: Joe McDermott and Brady Walkinshaw, a former and current member of the Washington legislature, respectively.

According to the Blade, “Both McDermott and Walkinshaw told the Washington Blade they objected to Sanders’ endorsements of their opponents at a time LGBT people aren’t proportionately represented in Congress.” Roughly one percent of the House and Senate are openly gay, lesbian or bisexual, compared to 3.5 percent of the US population.

Bernie Sanders speaking at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, via John Pemble / Flickr

Bernie Sanders speaking at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, via John Pemble / Flickr

McDermott went on to argue that it was improper for presidential candidates or other out-of-state politicians to make endorsements in the race at all, arguing that the debate over who should represent Washington’s 7th should be a debate held by citizens of that district.

I would like to see more LGBT members of Congress, but I also think this kerfuffle — to the extent that it’s a kerfuffle — is silly.

One of the cool things about having a diverse political party is that occasionally women of color run against gay men in primary elections. That is a good thing, and making endorsements in these races doesn’t necessarily say anything about how you feel about the identities of the unendorsed candidates. It says that you like their opponents’ politics more.

Which is to say, the implication that Sanders is somehow anti-gay because he raised money for candidates who are running against people who happen to be gay seems like a bit of a stretch. If he had raised money for the gay candidates, it would have meant raising money against two women — one of whom is a woman of color. Would that have meant he doesn’t think women need more representation in Congress?

Furthermore, it seems pretty clear that Sanders made these endorsements because the candidates in question are leading figures on his signature issues — not because he’s neutral or net-negative on LGBT equality. Zephyr Teachout is a preeminent voice on campaign finance reform and is widely held as a progressive leader in New York, especially following her surprisingly competitive primary challenge against Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014. There isn’t anything in her record that would implicate her as being anti-LGBT in any way (as the Blade pointed out, for what it’s worth, she has taken part in New York City Pride). Japyal is a civil rights activist who served as the executive director of OneAmerica, a pro-immigration advocacy group. She has also been instrumental in the push for raising the minimum wage in Washington state, and has been endorsed by a number of labor groups. Again, for what it’s worth, when given the opportunity she has voted with the LGBT community during her time in the Washington State Senate.

So sure, it’s true that the LGBT community is underrepresented in Congress. It’s also true that women and communities of color are underrepresented in Congress. I’m sure that Joe McDermott, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton, would be just fine with her asking her supporters to send him money — even if she is from outside the district, and even if it would mean raising money against a woman of color in Pramila Jaypal.

A candidate endorsed some people who share his values. Let’s not overthink this.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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