April 19, 2016 (West Hollywood, CA)
By: Christopher Nikhil Bowen
The political revolution Bernie Sanders began (or more accurately, uncovered) is not over. However, his campaign as a true contender to be our party’s nominee, is. It is for that reason why I, without hesitation or mental reservation, unequivocally endorse Hillary Rodham Clinton for President of the United States.
In 1999 I watched nervously as my little state became the focus of the nation. Our Vermont legislature was debating the merits of the rights’ of same-sex couples after the Baker v. Vermont decision in December 1999. Their findings stated same-sex couples should not be denied marriage benefits. In the spring of 2000 Governor Howard Dean signed into law the bill proposed by the legislature instituting Civil Unions. Then-U.S. House Representative Bernie Sanders supported this legislation.
The 2000 state elections (held in November) became a vicious referendum on those that supported equality. The culture war battle lines could not have been drawn any more clearly. Conservatives felt the state was being overrun by “white plater” values (a derogatory term used in Vermont against those who had previously lived in New York or Massachusetts and held liberal values). I saw signs spring up along the rural countryside and even some of my neighbors’ lawns, they read “Take Back Vermont”. They were angry. I, like many LGBT members, were scared. I didn’t know what to think. I knew I wasn’t a white-plater, and I loved Vermont; therefore, I should be against Civil Unions. I was preconditioned by my culture to reject the leftist homosexual “agenda”. I also knew even then that I wasn’t like most of the other boys in my class, but I wasn’t brave enough to come out — especially under such a tumultuous time for the gay rights movement in Vermont and the country. I was born in India and was adopted nearly at birth. My parents are white but all four of my siblings and I are minorities. Vermont is the second whitest state in the union, we were different enough as it was, coming out just seemed like I was being selfish.
In 2001 I went on to serve as a Vermont Legislative Page in Montpelier. I listened intently from the House and Senate floor as my friend and state Representative Gaye Symington defended herself against the ravenous right and even moderate Democrats on her vote in favor of civil unions. Gaye Symington watched in dismay as dozens of her allies in the fight for same-sex rights fell victim to hate in the 2000 elections. The “Take Back Vermont” movement claimed many more seats that year. The Democrats were weakened, but undeterred in their quest for equality.
It gave me pause when I saw Mrs. Symington supporting Civil Unions. She was a great mother to my friend Sam, and I spent many days at their house playing baseball in the backyard or traveling to Montreal in their funky VW van to watch the Expos take on the Red Sox. She represented my small town of Jericho, Vermont in the legislature and she was a well-respected mother and figure in our community. Even though at the time I felt the left was too extreme, I didn’t feel that way about Gaye Symington. That is what leadership looks like.
In 2002 I was a freshman at Mount Mansfield Union High School, and I decided to write a term paper on Civil Unions. My mentor Dot Kurth ran a “learning lab” at the High School designed for students who needed extra help on their studies. I often went to her for support and advice. She offered to help with my term paper and even invited me to visit her same-sex female neighbors to conduct an interview. I went to their home and they expressed to me their exasperation with the Republican Party. They said, “[w]e just had a baby, we are the embodiment of family values! How can the Republican Party tell us we can’t visit each other in the hospital when the other gets sick? What happens to our finances if one of us dies? How can we make sure our child is taken care of? The system is rigged against us.” I found myself nodding in agreement time and again, almost in tears at times. I could sense their feelings of anguish and pain. It was there where I changed my mind, gay rights ARE human rights!
I attended undergraduate university at a southern catholic university, and I tried to slowly come out of the closet. Firstly I unveiled my secret to the closest of friends. The university and the students were not known for their support of the LGBT community, but it was something I felt I needed to do. The arduous task of coming out became easier with time. It helped that I was in Arlington, Virginia, over 500 miles away from home, and moved to Paris for 6 months to study and “discover myself.” My family finally made me come out to them when I was in grad school. It was a long process and it was not easy.
As a college senior, I became a legislative intern for United States Senator Bernie Sanders. I could not have been more proud. I was working on behalf of the great people of Vermont on Capitol Hill. We were not treated well though, as many on the Hill thought that Sanders was not “going-along-to-get-along.” Staffers of Democratic Party Senators mixed together at lunch and after work. We were oftentimes not extended the same treatment as our boss was an Independent socialist. I resented their cliquish ways and wore my Sanders employment badge as a true badge of honor.
After my post-baccalaureate study at Oxford, I moved to Los Angeles for graduate school and fell in love. My Panamanian fiancé and I know we are going to live the American dream. I also know we need to fight to keep that dream alive.
I have been a proud Vermonter my whole life. Since the beginning of Bernie Sanders campaign for President and well before, I have been an outspoken advocate for him in my community. However, it is clear to me that Bernie Sanders will unfortunately not go on to capture our party’s nomination.
Our country can now go in two opposite directions when it comes to marriage equality and so many other human rights issues. We can go forward or we can go back. I am slated to be married to the love of my life next year, and I cannot imagine a world without that legal right. Actually, I can, and that’s why it is so imperative that we coalesce behind our party’s choice, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Today, I see unprecedented protections bestowed on LGBT peoples. As a gay rights activist with the Stonewall Democratic Club and the Stonewall Young Democrats I fight every day to ensure that my community is treated with the respect I know we all deserve. On the campaign trail I’ve heard Hillary Clinton affirm the importance of the LGBT community, of women, of minorities, of Spanish-speakers, of civil rights, of her reluctance to use military force aboard, and so many more issues my generation holds dear. I cannot afford a Republican presidency, we cannot afford to go back. I refuse to go back. Stand with me friends as we press forward for a better America with Hillary Clinton. I have endorsed Hillary Clinton for President tonight, and I urge you to do the same!
 Gaye Symington went on to become elected Vermont’s Speaker of the House in 2005, and held that position until 2008. She unsuccessfully sought the governorship in 2008.