In an exclusive interview with Philadelphia Gay News, U.S. Sen. Tim Kane, the Democratic nominee for vice president, recently shared his views on LGBT issues and what his position in a Clinton Administration might look like. This interview started out addressing my conversation with Kaine at the Democratic National Convention the night he was officially nominated.
Tim Kaine: I am surprised I was even capable of delivering a coherent sentence that evening, I had so much adrenaline in my body.
You looked like the happiest of warriors I’ve ever seen. Explain to me the process of elected officials evolving on LGBT issues over the years, particularly yourself.
TK: I’ll make it personal since I can tell my story better than others. I’m pretty religious — I take my Catholicism pretty seriously — but I’m a civil-rights lawyer too. I’m really committed to equality. For a long time, I was battling for equality
for LGBT folks in the workplace and housing and hate crimes, but I had the more traditional view about marriage. That didn’t cause me any real cognitive dissonance, I just thought, you know, well, marriage is different. In my state, I was lieutenant governor, which meant president of the Senate. It was 2004 and my legislature decided — it was a Republican legislature — to do one of the marriage amendments in the Virginia Constitution. As the Republicans were putting it together, I remember having conversations with some of them, and I didn’t like the way they drafted it. I was sort of sympathetic to some of it, but it was just so over the top. I remember making suggestions to them about what I thought they could do to make it a little more humane. What they told me was one of two things: Some of them said, “Look, the goal here is we want to make Virginia really hostile to LGBT folks so they won’t come to Virginia.” That was shocking to me that they would be that blunt with me. But then the other one that might have been even more disappointing to me was, I had colleagues who would say, “Yeah, you’re right. This really sucks, but if we do this we can earn some credit with our base and they’ll let us do some more moderate or progressive things on other issues like funding higher education and stuff.” I was like, “Wow, so you’re really just going to just treat this group of people as your castoffs and if you can kick them around for a while, maybe you can do somebody else some good?” That really started my transition. The referendum did go on the ballot. By the time it was voted on, I was governor. I campaigned against it and was really glad when I joined the Senate in 2013 to sign onto the amicus brief that the Democratic senators put in to promote marriage equality at the Supreme Court. I’m really happy that I had another chapter in public life beyond being governor and that I’ve gotten to not just see but be a small part of the gains that we’ve made.
As vice president, you’re also president of the Senate and preside over the Senate. Some people are predicting it’s possible the Democrats and Republicans will be split down the middle on the Equality Act. How does it make you feel that you might be the one vote that brings nondiscrimination for LGBT people into law?
TK: I tell you, it would be the easiest vote I ever cast. As you know, I’m a cosponsor of that act. I think it’s really important that we do it. In fact, I just talked a little bit about this very issue here at Penn State a few m
inutes ago to a great student audience. You’re right: In theory, I could break the tie. I had to break four or five ties when I was lieutenant governor in Virginia so it’s possible I could do that in the Senate. Sadly, though, as you know from watching the Senate, they’ve sort of turned every piece of legislation into a 60-vote filibuster and cloture vote rather than the 50 votes on the merits, so it means that the number of ties is dramatically dropping. But if the Equality Act ever was a tie, that would be just about the easiest vote I ever passed.
If the Democrats don’t take control of the Senate, do you or will the Clinton Administration have any maneuvering pressure to put on Sen. Mitch McConnell to get him to bring the Equality Act to the floor?
TK: That’s a good question. If we posit it that way, OK, we win — I think we’re going to take the Senate too — but whether we’ve taken it or not, what is the likelihood of getting the Equality Act to the floor and then getting over that 60-vote threshold? The Republicans clearly would not allow it to be a 50-vote threshold; they’d want it to be up at 60 votes. What would be the possibility of it? I really think this election is going to send a real mandate for pro-equality policies. It is also going to show the Republican Party, in my estimation, how deeply unpopular they’ve become with certain groups of voters, including millennials, including minorities, including new Americans. There are few issues that are more important to millennials than equality of all kind, including LGBT equality. Millennials overwhelmingly believe in it and the Republican Party, if they lose the presidency for the third election in a row — that’s hard to do now — they’re going to have to do some soul-searching and say, “Wow. Why are we so unpopular with young voters?” They’re going to reach the conclusion that the LGBT-equality issue is one of [the reasons]. Whether or not we have a majority, we won’t have 60 [votes] so we’re going to need some Republican votes. I have a feeling the outcome of this election is going to be a pretty clear mandate for pro-equality policies.
The Williams Institute recently reported that at least 13 percent of LGBT seniors are worried about housing issues. What can we do on that front?
TK: I know that’s got to be a big issue in Philly; it is in so many cities. This is the area I worked in as a fair-housing lawyer for 17 years in Virginia and have done a lot of work around affordable housing as a mayor and governor, too. Here’s some good news: I don’t think we need to create a new program that doesn’t exist. There is a program: It’s the Low-Income Tax Credit Program that allocates tax credits to states, and then states have housing-finance agencies that use those tax credits to promote the construction of affordable rental housing. It’s a very, very good program. The states kind of tailor it to their own circumstances, which is fine. Everybody I talk to in the affordable-housing area says, “Look, you have a program that works. It’s just not funded at a robust-enough level.” So Hillary and I have a proposal to just take that LITC program and dramatically increase the funding so we can produce more affordable rental housing. Here’s another reason we have to do it, just demographically. Before the collapse of the economy in 2008 and 2009, we had home-ownership rate up to nearing 70 percent, and that was probably too high. Now it’s coming back down to about 62 percent and it’s probably going to go down to more like 60 percent. As the home-ownership rate falls to what might be kind of an equilibrium for a while, you’ve got to have more rental housing. If more people are renting or staying in a rental property longer, and the population is growing, you’ve got to have more rental housing. That’s why this LITC program is so important.
I saw a campaign commercial recently by a PAC that features Judy Shepard [mother of Matthew Shepard, victim of antigay hate crime]. What concrete steps will the Clinton Administration take regarding hate crimes against the LGBT community?
TK: One of the things that I’m really interested in — and it’s related to hate crimes — is the bullying issue. The statistics about LGBT kids getting bullied at school is vastly disproportionate to other kids. Also, LGBT suicide rates are troubling, and that’s connected to the bullying phenomenon. I’ve been giving some thought to that one. There’s a part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act called Title IV, which is school-security monies. Virtually every district gets them. Schools that get Title IV monies should be able to use those monies for anti-bullying activities. Bullying not only affects LGBT students obviously — though they suffer from it disproportionately — but it affects others too. I think a real focus on anti-bullying is important. When I was DNC chair, we were pretty involved in the “It Gets Better” campaign to try to get adults of all kinds to basically just look at the kids of today, the students of today, and say, “Hey, look. You may be going through a tough time now and struggling with issues because you’re an adolescent. Hey, we all did. But you’ll get through it, it’ll get better. You just should celebrate who you are.” I think it’s really important for adults — especially adults in leadership positions — to preach that message so not only can kids feel more comfortable in who they are, but it also has a way of reminding students who might be prone to bullying others that that’s not cool behavior.
Do you want to say anything regarding your vice-presidential opponent, who supports conversion therapy and seems to be a very anti-LGBT person?
TK: We could talk about a lot of evidence about Mike Pence when he was governor of Indiana. The one that I think was the sharpest was the one that brought Indiana to national attention, which was an effort to pass a bill under the guise or label of religious freedom — which was really inspired by a desire to allow people to treat LGBT folks as second-class, and to make that OK and legal. That really backfired for the state. Businesses in the state urged [Pence] not to do that: “Don’t sign that bill.” The Republican governor of Georgia wouldn’t sign the bill similar to it when the legislature put it on his desk. Even after the business community said, “Don’t do this,” he did it anyway and then businesses were threatening to leave the state or, if they expanded, to expand elsewhere. Business looking to move to Indiana said, “We’re not going to come.” The front page of the Indianapolis newspaper had to run a full-page editorial: “Fix this law,” saying, “Don’t turn us into a poster child for bigotry. Don’t put socially extreme views ahead of the economic future of the state of Indiana.” Eventually, they had to partially back down. But even today, when asked, “Does there need to be legal protection so that people can’t be discriminated against on the grounds of [being] LGBTQ?” he says that’s not a priority for him. Well, it is a priority for Hillary Clinton and me and that’s why we’re such strong supporters of the Equality Act at the federal level.
Mark Segal is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. His recently published memoir, “And Then I Danced, Traveling the Road to Equality recently was named Book of the year by the National lesbian Gay Journalist Association.