Commentary: This year's voters have broader view of civil and human rights

Posted: September 23, 2016

Where candidates stand on issues of gender and sexuality, and the ways in which that will play out in the voting booth this November, will be very different than in past presidential campaigns.

The days of the either/or binary are over. The idea that both sexual orientation and gender identity exist on a spectrum is more widely accepted now than it has ever been before. That means our next president must also have an expanded understanding of civil and human rights in order to appeal to a broader population of voters.

Both Hillary Clinton and the Green Party's Jill Stein have pretty good records on gender and sexual identity equality, although Clinton came late to the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual)) platform.

Libertarian Gary Johnson has come out in favor of marriage equality and against North Carolina's transphobic "bathroom bill."And there's talk that Johnson's 9 percent approval rating could hold in some key states and have a spoiler effect on election outcomes (though a recent major gaffe may deflate his numbers).

Of course, traditional issues of equal pay, glass ceilings, and reproductive freedom are still important and on the table. But the electorate is changing, along with their priority issues. And though they have voted in much smaller percentages, millennials comprise as much of the electorate as do Baby Boomers.

So the strength of the youth vote is still sorting itself out, but millennials lean left and overwhelmingly supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primaries. People under age 35 are more diverse racially and ethnically, and identify as queer in far greater numbers than older generations.

The youth vote seems destined to support the candidate who favors same-sex marriage; protections for transgender youth in schools; equality in access to public bathrooms and medical care; nondiscrimination in housing, employment, and higher education; and freedom from criminalization. But that doesn't mean candidates should discount the rest of the voters.

Although many people, especially older people, feel more comfortable with the traditional gender assignment that matches their reproductive organs - the term for this is cis-gender - we are becoming a more informed culture. It's becoming less of a taboo to talk openly about how innumerable variations in both gender and sexual identities exist. People are pushing back against the power and privilege afforded exclusively to wealthy, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered, heterosexual men.

If current liberal views of gender and sex play out in the ballot box the way they do in studies and polling, voters are not likely to be impressed by Donald Trump's record. He is opposed to same-sex marriage, legal protections for LGBTQIA+ people, and reproductive rights. His running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, has a long record of hostility toward gay and transgender people, and is also opposed to reproductive freedom. Trump uses misogynistic slurs. It is clear that he and Pence are significantly out of step with the majority of the American people on these issues.

The ground has shifted with regard to gender and sexual identities. Same-sex marriage is now legal. Understanding and acceptance of transgender people is at record-high levels. New numbers show that three-quarters of Americans want transgender people to have special protections under the law. A majority of youth born since 2000 - Generation Z - identify as "queer" in a recent study. By 2020 a majority of Generation Z will also be some shade of brown or black.

If the candidates want a shot at landing in the Oval Office, they'll need to fall in line with the next generation of people fighting for the civil rights of all humans.

Karen Dolan directs the Criminalization of Race and Poverty project at the Institute for Policy Studies ( www.ips-dc.org). She wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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