By the time I turned 20 years old, three people in my life had died due to hate-related violence. My grief and anger fueled my passion for social justice reform. I’ve spent the last 10 years working in the intersection of LGBT education, policy and media.
As a public figure in the LGBT community who is very open about my politics, I’m frequently asked my opinion on current events. And because it’s an election year, I often get asked who I’m voting for. As an activist dedicated to social and economic justice, my answer could only be Bernie Sanders.
Income and wealth inequality
I live in the richest country in the world, a country built by people seeking a better life. A country where the vast majority of wealth is owned by a small handful of families. A country that claims to be the greatest in the world, and yet can’t ensure that all of its citizens have a living wage and a proper education.
Income inequality is the greatest moral issue of our time. Americans tend to believe that if someone works hard, is a decently moral person, and makes good choices, fate will hand them everything they need to get a good paying job and provide for their family. The reality is, lots of good, hardworking, American people are living in poverty and unable to provide basic necessities.
There is something profoundly disturbing about the transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthiest citizens in our country that has been happening since the 1980s. The top 1/10th of the 1% owns more wealth than the bottom 90%.
According to a study conducted by UC Berkley, “Real hourly wages of the median American worker were just 5 percent higher in 2013 than they were in 1979 while the wages of the bottom decile of earners were 5 percent lower in 2013 than in 1979.”
But it gets worse, once we start looking at the 2000s, Inflation-adjusted wage growth was either stagnant or negative for the bottom 70% of the US population. While 58% of all new income growth since the recession of 2008 has gone to the top 1% of the population. So basically, this means that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer despite a “rebounded economy.”
Living wages and job creation
An often cited example of dramatic income inequality is the Walton Family. The Walton family owns more wealth than the bottom 130 million Americans. To give you a more visual representation here, the Waltons have more money than everyone in the state of Louisiana added together. That’s one family. Not only are they more wealthy, but they’re using government funding to subsidize the cost of labor for their business.
Low-wage businesses like Walmart, fast food restaurants, and other retail locations are some of the most profitable in the country, they’re also costing American taxpayers $153 billion per year because they don’t provide a living wage.
More than half the state and federal government spending is allocated toward entitlement benefits for working families. These are people who work 40+ hours a week, who are still unable to pay for health insurance and rent in the same month.
I’m voting for Bernie Sanders because he sees the severity of America’s issues and doesn’t sugar coat them. He has pledged to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 — because people who work full-time should be able to feed their kids.
Bernie plans to invest $1 trillion over 5 years into making America great again. He plans to do this by investing in the rebuilding of our crumbling infrastructure, which would provide jobs for folks to help improve our roads, bridges, railways, airports, public transit systems, ports, dams, and wastewater plants will go a long way in helping to keep Americans employed.
College and student loans
Sanders also has pledged to make tuition free at public colleges and universities. It’s counterproductive to the health and well-being of our economy that hundreds of thousands of people can’t afford to go to college and those who do are saddled with student loan debt that cripples their ability to live.
In a study conducted by American Student Assistance, the majority of people with student loans said they have waited to get married, buy homes, make investments and save for retirement because of their student loan debt. Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they found it difficult to pay for basic necessities because of their loans.
Student loans don’t just impact those with debt and their families, it impacts the entire economy because money that would have gone to purchasing homes, fostering entrepreneurship or to investment is used to pay off debt.
Combating climate change
Global warming is very real. The world’s scientists are in pretty bold agreement that if we don’t make dramatic changes to our behavior that our world will be overcome with flooding and other natural disasters. Sanders has pledged to invest funds into developing clean, sustainable energy sources. He also plans to tax businesses on their carbon and methane emissions and is vocally opposed to the Keystone XL Pipeline. This one for me is a no brainer. If we don’t make changes, we’re going to destroy the planet for future generations.
Humane immigration policy and racial justice
American policy has failed people of color. We’ve failed in just about every way possible to protect and nurture the well-being of people of color. The stories of police executing black people on the streets are so frequent now that protestors are using the same chants and hashtags repeatedly.
Black Americans are twice as likely to be arrested and almost four times as likely to experience the use of force during encounters with the police. Black and Latino Americans make up more than half of all prisoners, despite the fact that they are only one-quarter of the total US population. People of color are being gunned down in churches and as children playing in the park. America is a country where white supremacy is written into our policies and etched in our minds.
Sanders has developed a 43-point plan of action in which he plans to address issues of racial justice in policy reform and community education. He supports the expansion of the Voting Rights Acts and wants to create an environment that empowers people of color to vote. He wants to ban for-profit prisons and require police officers to wear body cameras.
Sanders also supports creating a pathway to citizenship for young immigrants. He supported the Dream Act and also maintains that diverting funds to build a fence at the border is a racist and ridiculous use of funding.
In 2015, Hispanic women made 54 cents for every one dollar a white male made. Americans should be ashamed of that figure. It speaks to the racism and misogyny in our culture. Sanders has spoken in support of the Paycheck Fairness Act and believes that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work. This isn’t a radical notion, it’s common sense. The same job should result in the same pay.
Sanders has earned a 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America because of his strong voting record in favor of protecting women’s reproductive rights. He’s repeatedly voted in favor of women making their own choices on behalf of their own bodies. He’s gone as far as to commit to only nominating Supreme Court Justices that will protect Roe v Wade as law.
Some of you might be wondering why I waited until the end to mention LGBT equality. Well, the LGBT community is diverse and nuanced. All of these issues impact our community. Transgender women of color are the most impacted by systemic racism in all of its forms. LGBT people still do not have federal nondiscrimination protections and are still being fired from our jobs legally for our identities. The lack of job security results in unstable incomes and a higher proportion of LGBT people living below the poverty line. Undocumented LGBT immigrants are often seeking a better life away from countries with anti-LGBT policies. It’s still illegal to be LGBT in 83 countries and subject to death in 5. LGBT youth make up about 40% of the homeless population despite only being 3-5% of the population. Unstable housing results in large gaps in educational attainment and aspirations.
Bernie Sanders recognizes intersectionality and has pledged to make gains for the entire LGBT community — not just those who make large donations. Sanders voted against “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in 1993 and against “The Defense of Marriage Act” in 1996. He will sign the Equality Act, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act and he will ensure that policies being used to allow discrimination on the grounds of religious exemptions will not be signed into law. Bernie Sanders has pledged his support for the Transgender community as well as the LGB community, unlike other candidates that we’ve seen in the past. He respects the need to protect those who are most marginalized in our community and is elevating voices of LGBT, POC and women leaders.