You Don’t Speak for Me, Joe Biden

Content warning: sexual violence, sexual harassment, hate crimes

When I logged onto Facebook a couple weeks ago, I was prepared to see pictures of Brock Turner, a.k.a. “the Stanford rapist.” I was instead confronted with posts lauding Vice President Joe Biden for writing a letter to the girl Brock Turner assaulted.

I felt the same pain at the bottom of my stomach I felt when I read about Biden’s June 14 speech at the White House on sexual violence, watched Biden and Lady Gaga stand together at the Oscars to raise awareness about sexual assault on college campuses, and saw Biden’s face plastered all over “It’s On Us” campaign paraphernalia. It seems we’ve all embraced Biden as a spokesperson for the anti-sexual violence movement.

But have we really all forgotten about Anita Hill?

In 1991, Joe Biden, the then-Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, presided over hearings regarding Justice Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court. The issue at hand was the allegation that Thomas sexually harassed Anita Hill. Biden blatantly aided in Thomas’s nomination. Biden didn’t stop multiple senators from tearing Hill apart, wouldn’t call witnesses who could corroborate Hill’s story, and insisted Thomas had “the benefit of the doubt.”

In the end, Clarence Thomas was confirmed and remains a mediocre-at-best Supreme Court justice. Biden has yet to apologize to Anita Hill for how he treated her. And I’ll probably see more links to speeches from Biden next time a major story about sexual violence takes center stage.

You might be thinking: that was 1991, this is 2016. Why does this matter?

What Clarence Thomas did to Anita Hill didn’t just “go away” in the last 25 years, and neither did the inaction of Joe Biden. I still remember everyone who didn’t stand up for me after my rapes, no matter how many years ago they failed me. I remember the psychiatrist who told me I needed to “make myself less vulnerable to sexual violence in the future”; everyone who sat silently in my high school math class when one boy looked me in the eyes and said, “No means yes,” and laughed; and the seventh grade sex ed teachers who answered the anonymous question, “Why don’t chicken breasts have nipples?” but wouldn’t answer my anonymous question, “I was sexually assaulted. What do I do?”

It’s so easy to see Joe Biden’s actions during Clarence Thomas’s hearing as things in the past, but they’re not. Biden’s treatment of Anita Hill has made an indelible impact on her and survivors everywhere, especially Black survivors like Hill, who still face added scrutiny when they share their stories, and survivors of sexual harassment, who are still criticized for complaining about something not “severe” enough.

It’s a lot easier to support mainstream — generally white, cisgender, heterosexual — survivors of sexual violence than it is to support Black survivors and survivors of color, queer survivors, genderqueer survivors, survivors with disabilities, undocumented survivors, etc. It’s easy to stand beside high profile figures like Lady Gaga and the girl from Stanford whose stories, unlike the stories of most survivors, are taken at face value. I’ve watched Facebook friends who’ve never cared about things I’ve posted about Columbia University’s mistreatment of marginalized survivors share the Stanford survivor’s letter and call Brock Turner a rapist, whereas they’ve criticized other survivors for saying their perpetrators’ names at all.

If you throw any survivors under the bus, especially survivors who hold one or more marginalized identities, you’re not an “advocate for survivors.” In light of the recent murders of 49 queer and trans people, almost all of whom were Latinx, at a gay nightclub in Orlando, supporting survivors of color is doubly important. In continuing to compliment Biden without challenging his history of failing to support Anita Hill, we’re doing a tremendous disservice to marginalized survivors already ignored in the mainstream anti-sexual violence movement.

As a queer survivor who believes and supports survivors of all identities, you don’t speak for me, Joe Biden. You don’t speak for me unless you speak for every survivor.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

San Francisco, CA

Amelia Roskin-Frazee is a student at Columbia University where she is an organizer with No Red Tape, Columbia Queer Alliance, and the Barnard Columbia Solidarity Network. Outside of school, she is the Founder and President of The Make It Safe Project and serves on the National Advisory Council for The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. When not doing activist-y things, Amelia can be found writing, playing steel drums, and getting her butt kicked at badminton.

Amelia is a student at Columbia who loves writing and pissing off school administrators.

Read more about Amelia

Join the Conversation