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Clay Aiken: Why I support Joe Biden, our strongest ally

In 2008 I made two of the biggest decisions of my life: in August, I welcomed my son to the world. A month later I came out as gay.

For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to have a child. I was raised in North Carolina by an extraordinary Southern Baptist woman who spent her nights working at Sears to support us. When I was one year old, she left my abusive father and relied upon the grace of a friend for shelter. We were poor but we had each other.

In school, I was the odd duck. Effeminate with red hair and a fondness for singing, I was picked on, bullied and harassed. I was called gay, sissy, and other slurs too horrible for print. I escaped through music and service, singing in church choirs and theater productions, mentoring kids at my local YMCA and teaching special education for elementary school children with autism. Life wasn’t perfect by any means, but I learned early on to use whatever gifts you receive to help others.

For my own son, I wanted to do the same. I had no idea who he’d love or who he’d grow up to be, but I knew I didn’t want him to live a life of lies, stigma or shame. I wanted him to feel loved in an accepting and inclusive environment. To this day, coming out remains one of the best decisions I ever made as a father.

More than 10 years later, I’m preparing for another incredibly important decision: voting for the next president of the United States.

Thursday night, on the eve of National Coming Out Day, the most diverse field of presidential candidates yet will gather for a historic town hall to discuss their visions and agendas for LGBTQ equality. The richness of their backgrounds and experiences makes me proud to be a Democrat. Indeed, all of their ideas are necessarily bold and meaningful. But I believe there is no one in the field who has done more, with results to show for it, to advance the rights and welfare of LGBTQ people and everyday Americans, than Joe Biden. He has a progressive vision to build on that success.

We are facing inescapable challenges domestically and abroad. Since taking office, President Donald Trump has betrayed many of our core values and beliefs as Americans: he’s shunned our allies, embraced murderous dictators and incited a version of extremism that has resulted in a rise in domestic terrorism and hate crimes targeting minorities, people of faith, LGBTQ Americans and immigrant communities. Horrific mass shootings continue to rip across the United States and, according to Human Rights Campaign, violence against LGBTQ Americans has resulted in the killing of at least 18 transgender women alone, the majority of them women of color. Around the world, according to HRC and others, from Chechnya to El Salvador, Malaysia to Tanzania, LGBTQ individuals face terror and torture simply because of who they are.

Our next president must lead the world to meet these global challenges and ensure our democracy is safe and inclusive for everyone. They must have a proven track record of achieving progressive policies throughout their career and a bold vision to build on that success for the future.

As Vice President, Joe helped lead passage of historic reform which insured millions of people with pre-existing conditions, including HIV. Along with President Obama, he oversaw our nation’s economic recovery and steered us from another depression after the 2008 collapse. He worked to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2010 and the military ban on transgender service members. In the Senate, he co-authored the landmark Violence Against Women Act and led the way for the only ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines in our nation’s history, a ban he has pledged to reinstate if elected after Republicans allowed it to expire. He championed passage of the Matthew Shepard and James L. Byrd Hate Crimes Act. And Joe supported the freedom to marry at a time when most political pundits said it wasn’t a good idea. Joe’s vision for the future prioritizes the Equality Act, which would prohibit “discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity and sexual orientation,” and understands that transgender rights are the civil rights issue of our time.

As a gay man I celebrate the historic significance of the first openly gay candidate running for president. It’s a positive and important accomplishment in our nation’s progress that the little red-headed and bullied me never believed would be possible. There is still a great more to be done, but I know the progress we’ve seen today is not only because of the decades of tireless work by countless LGBTQ people, but also the commitment that allies like Joe Biden have brought to leveling the playing field for every American.

As history books will someday show in the chapters on LGBTQ rights, Joe Biden has been our ally each step of the way, advancing us toward a more just and perfect union.

That’s the leader Joe Biden has always been and the president our country needs.

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