Joe Biden has chosen a firm LGBT+ ally – Kamala Harris – as his running mate in November’s elections.
California Senator Harris is the first African American to run for vice president. And, if the Democrats win, she will become the US’s first female vice president.
Moreover, she has a long track record of supporting LGBT+ rights.
US LGBT+ campaign organizations have been swift to endorse Biden’s choice.
GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, said:
‘Kamala Harris is a proven fighter for equality, safety and justice for all, and we know she will continue making LGBTQ acceptance a priority in her history-making run alongside Joe Biden.’
Meanwhile Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said:
‘Senator Kamala Harris is nothing short of an exceptional choice for vice president.
‘Throughout her groundbreaking career, Senator Harris has been an outspoken advocate for the LGBTQ community, standing with us when many, even sometimes those within her own party, did not.’
Battle for marriage equality
Harris was particularly involved in the fight for marriage equality.
While she was California’s attorney general, she refused to defend Proposition 8 – the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
In fact, when marriage equality became legal in California, she officiated the first same-sex wedding.
Indeed, as a senator for California, she questioned Trump’s choice for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, over his support for Obergefell v Hodges, the 2015 case that brought in marriage equality across the US.
He side-stepped the question. And while Kavanaugh went on to join the court, Harris refused to join in his confirmation.
Tackling LGBT+ hate crime
Moreover, she was instrumental in California introducing a law banning gay or trans ‘panic’ defenses.
The law was a first of its kind in the US. And it stopped ‘queer bashing’ defendants claiming they acted violently because of temporary ‘panic’ or insanity when an LGBT+ person made a sexual advance on them.
Later, as a US Senator she introduced a bill to ban the ‘panic’ defense in federal trials.
As California’s attorney general she even had to block a ‘kill the gays’ bill. A lawyer proposed the Sodomite Suppression Act in 2015 – with the death penalty for being gay.
However Harris said it was ‘patently unconstitutional, utterly reprehensible, and has no place in a civil society’.
Earlier, Harris had served as San Francisco District Attorney. She established San Francisco County’s first LGBT+ hate crimes unit, victim advocacy unit, and LGBT+ sexual assault awareness program.
Extending protections in US Senate
As a US senator, Harris legislation to prevent people using their religious beliefs to justify LGBT+ discrimination.
Moreover, she has supported the Equality Act which will give LGBT+ Americans far wider protection against discrimination.
The Equality Act will cover education, federal funding, housing, education and public accommodations and the jury system. And Biden has promised to make it a priority if he wins the election.
She also introduced legislation to ensure the US Census counts LGBT+ Americans.
Trans prisoners controversy
The one controversy in Harris’ record as an LGBT+ ally is that she denied gender confirmation surgery to transgender prisoners as California’s attorney general.
However last year Harris explained that it was the previous policy of the California Department of Corrections. She claims when she learned what they were doing she got them to change the policy.
More positively, she supported transgender student Gavin Grimm who took his battle to use the right bathroom in school through the courts.
Harris has vowed to roll back President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces. Moreover she will also undo Trump’s attempts to erase trans healthcare rights and access to homeless shelters.
Speaking to GSN in 2012, Harris said she never declined to stand up for LGBT+ equality because it is too politically risky:
‘The reality of it is it’s simply the right thing to do. Certainly sometimes it takes courage to take a position that may not have been fully accepted yet because people haven’t evolved, but that can’t be a deterrent.’
Harris and Biden versus Pence and Trump
Democrats have warmly welcomed Biden’s decision to choose Harris as his running mate.
As a potential candidate for the presidency earlier in the race, she’s well known and well vetted. Her record as Califorina’s attorney general fairly inevitably draws criticism for her approaches to police reform, prisoners rights, truancy and other issues.
However, she fulfils a major requirement of US progressives – that Biden’s running mate should be a woman of color.
Republicans have tried to paint her as a radical leftist. However Democrats and external experts universally agree she is a fairly solid centrist.
It’s a sharp contrast to Trump and his running mate, Vice President Mike Pence, who have consistently attacked LGBT+ rights. The current administration has hardened it’s anti-LGBT+ stance as it prepares for re-election.