Above: Sen. Bernie Sanders (Photo from CNN/Des Moines Register)
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign is defending amid LGBTQ backlash its acceptance of support from podcast host Joe Rogan, who in the past has made comments condemned as transphobic, used anti-gay epithets and jokingly compared a black neighborhood to “Planet of the Apes.”
Briahna Joy Gray, national press secretary for the Sanders campaign, responded to the controversy in a statement to the Washington Blade by emphasizing the need to build a coalition to defeat President Trump in the 2020 election.
“The goal of our campaign is to build a multi-racial, multi-generational movement that is large enough to defeat Donald Trump and the powerful special interests whose greed and corruption is the root cause of the outrageous inequality in America,” Gray said. “Sharing a big tent requires including those who do not share every one of our beliefs, while always making clear that we will never compromise our values. The truth is that by standing together in solidarity, we share the values of love and respect that will move us in the direction of a more humane, more equal world.”
Rogan said on his show this week he’d “probably vote” for Sanders in the 2020 election, which the candidate’s campaign tweeted out with video shortly afterward on Jan. 23.
Upon accepting the Rogan’s endorsement, Sanders faced backlash on social media from those offended by the podcast’s comments on transgender people — as well as the nation’s leading LGBTQ group, the Human Rights Campaign.
“Given Rogan’s comments, it is disappointing that the Sanders campaign has accepted and promoted the endorsement,” HRC President Alphonso David said in a statement. “The Sanders campaign must reconsider this endorsement and the decision to publicize the views of someone who has consistently attacked and dehumanized marginalized people.”
Rogan, a mixed martial arts color commentator, has made on numerous comments in his show about transgender people many LGBTQ have found offensive.
At the top of the list was remarks in 2013 on transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox in which he indicated he would “tend to disagree” she was a woman, as reported at the time in the Bleacher Report.
“And she wants to be able to fight women in MMA,” Rogan said. “I say no fucking way. I say if you had a dick at one point in time, you also have all the bone structure that comes with having a dick. You have bigger hands, you have bigger shoulder joints. You’re a fucking man. That’s a man, OK?”
In 2014, Rogan tweeted, “I’m 100% in favor of transgender people, but to pretend that a male frame and a female frame are the same is insane.”
Rogan has also in years past defended the use of the word of the anti-gay epithet “faggot” on the dubious assertion the word isn’t anti-gay, but later said in 2010 he would “retire” the use of that word from his vernacular.
Alluding to those comments, HRC’s David said in a statement Rogan has “attacked transgender people, gay men, women, people of color and countless marginalized groups at every opportunity.”
“In 2019, 25 transgender people were killed because of the type of transphobia that Rogan stokes,” David added.
The Human Rights Campaign in the 2016 election had endorsed Hillary Clinton over Sanders in the Democratic primary. The LGBTQ group has yet to make an endorsement in the 2020 election.
Meanwhile, a 2013 video of Rogan has begun to circulate online of him comparing a black neighborhood to the movie “Planet of the Apes,” drawing on a racist trope about black people.
“We get out, we’re giggling, ‘We’re going to go see Planet of the Apes,’ We walk in to Planet of the Apes. We walked into Africa,” Rogan says in the clip.
But Rogan later concedes in the clip, “That was a racist thing for me to say.” Rogan went on to say it was a “positive experience” to see the movie in a black neighborhood, then did impersonations of some of the black people he met.
“You know people always complain that black people talk to the movie theater and talk to the screen?” Rogan says. “Yes, they do. Yes, they do. But it’s good.”
For many people who object to Rogan’s comments, it was one thing for Rogan to state he’d vote for Sanders in the 2020 election, but for the campaign to promote the endorsement was over the line.
Among the criticizing the Sanders campaign for accepting the endorsement was Carlos Maza, who said on Twitter the candidate should repudiate Rogan’s support.
“Bernie’s campaign cutting a campaign ad with Joe Rogan fucking sucks,” Maza wrote. “Rogan is an incredibly influential bigot and Democrats should be marginalizing him.”
Sanders has built a record of support for LGBTQ rights over his decades in politics. In the 1980’s, Sanders as mayor of Burlington, Vt., backed a Pride event at a time when they were politically unpopular. Sanders in 1996 was one of 67 members of the House to vote against the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, unlike Democratic presidential candidate Joseph Biden. Sanders was an original co-sponsor of the Equality Act pending before Congress.
More recently, Sanders addressed the annual LGBTQ Victory Conference, an annual event for LGBTQ political leaders that this year took place in D.C.
The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Joe Rogan seeking comment on whether he’d dispute the characterization of him as anti-LGBTQ or would repudiate his comments. The Blade obtained no response as of Friday.
Not everyone is as offended by Sanders accepting Rogan’s endorsement as others. In fact, many Sanders supporters who are LGBTQ agree with the campaign reaching out to others with contrary views is necessary to build a coalition is necessary.
Ian Thompson, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocate who supported Sanders in the 2016 and 2020 election, expressed that sentiment on Twitter.