BY CHRIS JOHNSON
In an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade, Hillary Clinton pledged to build a “hopeful, inclusive America where everyone counts” as she continues to draw a contrast between herself and Donald Trump over their views on LGBT issues.
The Democratic presidential hopeful answered 13 questions on issues important to the LGBT community in a written interview with the Blade completed Wednesday with less than one week remaining before Election Day.
“We have so much more work to do, and I want LGBT people in every corner of this country to know that as president, I will always have your back,” Clinton said.
In the interview, Clinton recommitted herself to pushing comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination legislation known as the Equality Act and to work to ensure the prohibition on gender discrimination under current law applies to LGBT people.
“As president, I’ll make fighting discrimination against the LGBT community a top priority – including by working with Congress to pass the Equality Act,” Clinton said. “And we won’t stop there. We’ll also take on harassment, bullying, and violence – and youth homelessness, which disproportionately hurts LGBT kids.”
For the first time, Clinton explicitly vowed to veto the First Amendment Defense Act, a federal “religious freedom” bill that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination.
In response to Trump’s criticism over the Clinton Foundation accepting millions of dollars from countries with anti-LGBT laws, Clinton laid out the charity’s work combatting the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and pointed out Trump has had business dealings with these same countries “for the sole purpose of padding his own pockets.”
Clinton also identified as a personal role model Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the lawsuit that led the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.
“Edie is a truly remarkable woman: smart, feisty, and very brave,” Clinton said. “She came of age at a time when many LGBT people felt they couldn’t live openly – but she had the courage to stand up for her marriage in such a bold, public way and the faith to believe that justice would ultimately prevail.”
The Washington Blade agreed to conduct the written interview with Clinton and submitted similar questions to Trump’s campaign. Although the Trump campaign said it would answer the questions, the Blade as of this posting has yet to receive responses from the Republican candidate.
Washington Blade: Where would passage of the Equality Act fit among your legislative priorities as president?
Hillary Clinton: As you know, there are still places in America where LGBT people can get married on Sunday and fired on Monday, just because of who they are or who they love. That’s wrong, and it goes against everything we stand for as a country.
As President, I’ll make fighting discrimination against the LGBT community a top priority – including by working with Congress to pass the Equality Act. And we won’t stop there. We’ll also take on harassment, bullying, and violence – and youth homelessness, which disproportionately hurts LGBT kids. We’ll end the harmful practice of so-called “conversion” therapy for minors, because LGBT kids don’t need to be “cured” of anything. And we’ll bring people together to reform our gun laws and keep guns from falling into the wrong hands, so that what happened at Pulse never happens again. All of these things are part of my vision for a hopeful, inclusive America where everyone counts, and everyone has a place.
Blade: If the next Congress isn’t amenable to LGBT rights, in what areas would you expand President Obama’s executive order barring anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors?
Clinton: For starters, I’m going to keep working as hard as I can between now and Election Day to elect champions of LGBT rights up and down the ballot. I want us to have plenty of people in Congress who are committed to equality and dignity for all Americans.
But this is a really important question, and a reminder that LGBT rights are absolutely on the ballot in this election. Our next president can either defend President Obama’s executive actions, or repeal them. Donald Trump has promised to repeal them. If I’m fortunate enough to be elected president, I’ll protect them, and I’ll build on them. We’ll make sure we’re enforcing the President’s executive actions in a real and meaningful way. And we’ll support the efforts that are already underway in the courts and across the federal government to clarify that protecting people from “sex discrimination” means protecting them from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, too.
Blade: The Clinton Foundation has faced criticism for accepting millions of dollars from countries with laws that punish homosexual acts with death, including between $10-$25 million from Saudi Arabia. The foundation has done much good work, but do the ends justify the means?
Clinton: I am so proud of the work the Clinton Foundation has done on behalf of vulnerable people all across the world – especially the work to combat HIV and AIDS, an epidemic that disproportionately impacts LGBT communities around the globe. Due to the work of the Clinton Foundation, 11.5 million people in the developing world have access to HIV medication at 90 percent lower cost. That’s more than half of all adults and 3/4 of all children receiving treatment today.
I’ve always believed that we shouldn’t shy away from confronting human rights abuses around the world – against LGBT people or anyone else. That’s why, as Secretary of State, I actively stood up to these countries and have advocated for the rights of many, including declaring that “gay rights are human rights,” and made advancing the rights of LGBT people around the world a cornerstone of our foreign policy, including advocating for the first ever United Nations resolution on LGBT rights. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has conducted business deals worth millions of dollars in or with some of these countries and has done it for the sole purpose of padding his own pockets.
Here’s the bottom line: As your president, I will continue to fight for LGBT rights here in the United States and around the globe.
Blade: In 2013, you forcefully came out in favor of marriage equality, but others, including President Obama and Republican Sen. Rob Portman, preceded you. Why didn’t you echo President Obama and endorse marriage equality as secretary of state and do you regret not coming out for it sooner?
Clinton: Like a lot of Americans, my views on this have changed for the better. And that happened because people I cared about had the grace and patience to help me understand two key things. First, everyone in this country must have the right to marry whoever they love just like everyone else. This was about being recognized as full and equal citizens and protecting families from very real discrimination. I’ve always believed marriage is a great blessing, so why deny that joy to anyone? And second, marriage equality makes us fairer, more respectful and a better country. It is the affirmation of our basic civil rights.
Blade: Based on donations to the Clinton Foundation, Donald Trump has famously said “ask the gays” who has the better record between you and him on LGBT rights. Who has the better record and what is the biggest risk to the LGBT community of a Trump presidency?
Clinton: I’ll gladly put my record on LGBT rights next to Trump’s for the voters to decide any day!
Let’s start with Donald Trump. He’ll appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn marriage equality, and said he’ll repeal President Obama’s executive actions to protect LGBT people from discrimination. And in case there’s any doubt about the kind of president he would be, look who he chose for his running mate: Governor Mike Pence, who signed a law that allowed Indiana businesses to legally discriminate against LGBT customers. We also know that Donald Trump has a long track record of bullying, harassment, and discrimination in his businesses, including reportedly against LGBT employees.
LGBT equality is an issue that’s so close to my heart. As First Lady, I fought to expand funding for HIV and AIDS research – and became the first First Lady to march in a Pride parade. As Senator from New York, I championed legislation to address hate crimes, fought for federal non-discrimination legislation to protect LGBT Americans in the workplace, and pushed for an end to discriminatory and harmful laws that blocked LGBT Americans from adopting children. As Secretary of State, I led the effort to pass the first-ever U.N. Resolution on LGBT Human Rights, launched the Global Equality Fund, ended State Department regulations that denied same-sex couples and their families equal rights, helped implement LGBT-friendly workplace policies, and updated the State Department’s policy so that transgender individuals’ passports reflect their true gender.
We have so much more work to do, and I want LGBT people in every corner of this country to know that as president, I will always have your back.
But first, we have to win this election!
Blade: Trump has pledged to sign the First Amendment Defense Act, “religious freedom” legislation that would enable anti-LGBT discrimination, if Congress approves it. Would you veto such legislation if passed while you’re president and what is your plan to fight the growing movement of religious freedom bills across the U.S.?
Clinton: I would absolutely veto that legislation, which is part of a concerted effort to discriminate against LGBT people under the guise of protecting religious freedom. I firmly believe that we can promote equal rights and dignity for all Americans and protect religious liberty at the same time. That’s not what the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act” does. It’s insincere and insidious, and we can’t let it become law.
As president, I will protect religious liberty and fight to make sure all Americans can live their lives free from discrimination. We can do both. The Equality Act, for example, advances LGBT equality while maintaining the religious exemptions that have been part of our civil rights laws for decades.
Blade: You have set out a vision to achieve an “AIDS-free generation.” How will your policies help get the country to an AIDS-free generation, and one with treatment for all who have HIV?
Clinton: As Secretary of State, I said that an AIDS-free generation was within our reach, and I will keep fighting for that future as president.
Since our fight first began, infection rates have fallen in many places, more people with HIV are getting life-saving treatment, and more babies born to HIV-positive mothers are getting the treatment they need to avoid infection. But HIV and AIDS are still with us. More than 1.2 million people live with HIV in the United States, and globally, HIV afflicts a total of 37 million people. So we’ve made a lot of progress toward this goal – but we still have our work cut out for us.
I believe that now is the time to rededicate ourselves to achieving the AIDS-free generation that is within our grasp. That’s why as president I will convene an “End the Epidemic” working group to end AIDS as an epidemic in the United States and globally. Here at home, we’ll expand the availability of HIV prevention medications like PrEP, take on disparities and barriers to accessing care, cap out-of-pocket drug costs, and launch a campaign to end stigma and discrimination. Around the world, we’ll dramatically increase the number of people on HIV treatment through programs like PEPFAR, increase our investment in HIV and AIDS research, and engage in public education campaigns in key countries where stigma and discrimination are rampant.
Blade: You have been a devout Methodist throughout your life and cited that as inspiration for seeking to help others, but the Methodist Church won’t officiate or recognize same-sex marriages. Should the church embrace same-sex marriage and do you expect that will happen?
Clinton: I’m deeply grateful for my faith, and the church that has nurtured it since I was a young girl. As I’ve said, I believe we can protect religious liberty while ensuring that all Americans are treated equally under the law. On a personal level, I am going to keep fighting for equality and encouraging others to embrace the LGBT community because I think it’s the right thing to do.
Blade: You made international LGBT rights a priority as secretary of state. How would you advocate for them as president?
Clinton: LGBT rights are human rights–plain and simple. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity. But hundreds of millions of people live in places where anti-LGBT violence is rampant and where they can be arrested, imprisoned, even executed for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
As president, I’ll continue to stand up for LGBT rights around the world, as I did as Secretary of State. We’ll start by stepping up our support for the Global Equality Fund with a $50 million investment over the next decade. This will expand programs that advance LGBT human rights around the world and send a strong message that the United States is an ally to LGBT people everywhere. We’ll also continue to work on public health issues like HIV and AIDS, and take on discriminatory, outdated laws that stigmatize and even criminalize being LGBT. And we’ll partner with governments, multilateral institutions, NGOs, and activists on the ground so that the LGBT community around the world gets the resources and support they need to not just survive but thrive.
Blade: When you were Secretary of State, what are the top items you accomplished on behalf of LGBT people and do you have favorite memories of working with LGBT people in other countries?
Clinton: I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish at the State Department in making the advancement of LGBT equality worldwide part of our foreign policy.
We announced for the first time ever that we would take into consideration how a country treats LGBT people when we delivered foreign aid. We instructed American diplomats to raise concerns about specific cases and laws. We worked with partners to strengthen human-rights protections. I helped lead the effort to pass the first-ever U.N. resolution on LGBT human rights. And we launched the Global Equality Fund to support the work of civil society organizations working on these issues around the world.
Some of my proudest accomplishments were actually here at home, because we know that the U.S. is strongest when we lead by example. We ended State Department policies denying same-sex couples and families equal rights, implemented LGBT-friendly workplace policies, and updated the Department’s policy for transgender persons’ passports to reflect their true gender.
Blade: The rates of violence and murder for transgender women of color remain stubbornly high. What would you do to address this problem?
Clinton: This is a serious and urgent problem. In 2015, 21 transgender people — most of them women of color — were murdered. And that doesn’t even begin to account for the violence that goes unreported or ignored.
We need to stand up for the lives and safety of transgender people, and take on bigotry and discrimination wherever they occur.
That means fighting for strong anti-discrimination laws. It means doing a better job of collecting data on gender identity and sexual orientation, because we can’t solve the problem of discrimination until we understand its full scope. It also means investing in law enforcement training to ensure fair and impartial policing in interactions with the LGBT community.
America saw the effects of hate in Orlando, with the attack on the Pulse nightclub — the deadliest mass shooting by a single person in our history. So we also need to finally pass common-sense reforms to address the gun violence epidemic.
Most of all, it’s far past time we say with one voice that transgender people are valued, they are loved, they are us, and they deserve to be treated that way.
Blade: You hired a gay man, Robby Mook, to run your campaign. How did you meet him and why did you choose him for the job?
Clinton: Easy: He was the best person for the job, hands down. Robby is brilliant, he’s one of the most incredible organizers I’ve ever met, and he creates a real culture of hard work and inclusion. That’s why just about everybody who works for him winds up working for him again (sometimes again and again and again!).
Blade: In separate interviews with the Washington Blade in 2008, Barack Obama cited as a gay role model his college professor Lawrence Goldyn and John McCain cited 9/11 hero Mark Bingham. Whom would you identify as an LGBT role model?
Clinton: I’m inspired by Edie Windsor, the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case that paved the way for marriage equality. When Edie’s wife, Thea Spyer, passed away, Edie realized she owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal estate taxes she wouldn’t have had to pay if she had been married to a man. She had to choose whether to live with this injustice, or fight back. She chose to fight back – and as a result, the Court ruled that all legally married LGBT couples must be treated equally under federal law. Edie’s case opened the door for the Supreme Court ruling one year later, which held that marriage equality was the law of the land in all 50 states.
Edie is a truly remarkable woman: smart, feisty, and very brave. She came of age at a time when many LGBT people felt they couldn’t live openly – but she had the courage to stand up for her marriage in such a bold, public way and the faith to believe that justice would ultimately prevail. And even though her own case has been fought and won, she’s still fighting just as fiercely for the rights of all LGBT Americans.