Bernie Sanders endorsed the federal recognition of non-binary identities, specifically the inclusion of a third-gender category on government-issued documents, during a Concord town hall Tuesday.
“Everything that I’m talking about is trying to create a non-discriminatory society,” said Sanders in response to an audience member’s question, perhaps referring to his earlier comments on affordable housing, student debt and wealth inequality.
State government recognition of non-binary identities has been spreading rapidly. After a landmark 2016 Oregon case decided in favor of an intersex person’s right to identify as non-binary, 11 other states and Washington, D.C., have introduced third-gender options on government documents, including not-so-liberal states like Arkansas and Utah. However, support at a federal level for non-binary identities has been non-existent; there is no non-binary U.S. passport.
The statement is continuous with Sanders’ previous support of trans rights. In 2015, Sanders condemned housing discrimination against trans people, a move that LGBT-interest publication The Advocate called “the biggest effort by any candidate to appeal to transgender voters and allies.” In 2017, Sanders tweeted a condemnation of the Trump administration’s reversal of Obama-era trans-inclusive bathroom school policy. “The attacks against transgender people are part of a bigotry which has got to end,” Sanders wrote at the time. Just last year, Sanders joined Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other Democratic congressmen in hanging a transgender pride flag outside his office.
Sanders’ latest statement came in response to a question from an audience member, who said she backed candidates only if they supported a third-gender option on federal forms. Sanders post-scripted his statement with an admonition to the asker, saying that “we are in a very difficult moment in American history and there are many, many issues that are out there, and we’ve got to be thinking holistically. You’re interested in climate change, right? You’re interested in making college affordable, right?”
Sanders’ campaign has previously downplayed identity and civil liberty issues in favor of economic ones. Huck Gutman, Sanders’ former Chief of Staff, claimed in an interview with NPR that “[Sanders’] central concerns have never been war or civil rights or gay rights or women’s rights.” In addition, in 2016 Sanders said that Democrats must go “beyond identity politics,” characterizing a focus on identity as a distraction from the issue of economic inequality.
While Sanders has supported trans issues for years, this statement marks Sanders’ first support of trans issues on the campaign trail. His vocalness on trans issues is reflective of a new centering of identity in general in his 2020 candidacy. In a Martin Luther King Jr. Day speech this year, Sanders’ claimed that “racial equality must be central to combating economic inequality.” And in a town hall last month with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Sanders seemed to admit that he hasn’t been strong on identity issues. In response to his difficulties convincing African-American voters, Sanders said, “Maybe I haven’t been as strong on this issue as I should be … we have a nation of massive wealth inequality … But within that inequality, we have another inequality, and that is racial disparity.”
Watch the full town hall below.