Election 2024

Who is Robert Kennedy Jr.? Where does he stand on LGBTQ+ issues?

Robert Kennedy Jr.
Robert Kennedy Jr. Photo: YouTube screenshot

Though Robert F. Kennedy has become known as an anti-vaxxer, a label he rejects, he has a long career as an environmental lawyer and has repeatedly said that he doesn’t want LGBTQ+ people treated like “second-class citizens.” Despite this, he hasn’t made his views on transgender issues completely clear, particularly on trans public accommodations and access to gender-affirming care for minors.

Robert Kennedy Jr. At a Glance

  • Location: Malibu, California
  • Party Affiliation: Democrat
  • Race/Ethnicity: White
  • Gender Identity: Male
  • Sexual Orientation: Straight
  • Pronouns: He/Him
  • LGBTQ+ Ally: Somewhat

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Born in Washington, D.C., on January 17, 1954, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was the third of 11 children and is the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy and former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA). His father, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1968, when Kennedy Jr. was just 14 years old.

Kennedy Jr. graduated from Harvard University in 1976 with a Bachelor of Arts in American history and literature, graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1986 with a Juris Doctor degree, and later graduated from Pace University with a Master of Laws.

He briefly served as an assistant district attorney for Manhattan in 1982, but he quit in July 1983 and was charged three months later with heroin possession. During his probation, he volunteered for the Natural Resources Defense Council. After, he served as an environmental lawyer for the Hudson Riverkeeper and the Long Island Soundkeeper. He founded the Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University School of Law in 1987; there, he served as the clinic’s supervising attorney, co-director, and clinical professor of law.

He co-founded the bottled water company Keeper Springs in 1998 and sold it in 2013. He co-founded the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international collection of 344 licensed waterkeeper programs in 44 countries, in June 1999. He co-founded the environmental law firm Kennedy & Madonna, LLP in 2000. He co-founded the news site EcoWatch in October 2011 and resigned from its board in January 2018. He became a lawyer for the Morgan & Morgan law firm in 2016.

Throughout his career, he has sued corporate polluters throughout North, Central, and South America. He has served as an advisor, partner, and board member to multiple environmental and renewable energy groups. He has also written numerous articles on politics, corporate governance, and U.S. international affairs for various mainstream publications.

During the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns, Kennedy emerged as a prominent voice in the anti-vaccine movement, claiming that vaccines cause autism and accusing health officials of emulating Nazis. He declared his candidacy for president on April 5, 2023. He has been married three times and has six children.

Kennedy’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues

While Kennedy supports same-sex marriage and generally opposes discrimination against all people, his stances on trans issues remain somewhat unclear.

Same-sex marriage

In 2011, Kennedy joined the Human Rights Campaign’s “New Yorkers for Marriage Equality” campaign. In his ad for the campaign, Kennedy said, “This is the last vestige of institutional bigotry left in this country, and we need to get rid of it.”

Trans children in sports

In an April 2023 CNN interview, Kennedy said, “I am against people participating in women’s sports who are biologically male. I think women who have worked too hard to develop women’s sports over the past 30 years I watched it happen and I don’t think that’s fair.”

His comments came on the heels of a proposal by the administration of President Joe Biden to interpret Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to forbid schools from banning transgender students from playing on sports teams matching their gender identity.

In a subsequent interview, he clarified that he opposes trans girls playing in competitive sports which may lead to scholarships or a career. However, he said that is okay with trans participation in sports that won’t lead to such opportunities.

Transgender access to public bathrooms

In an August 2023 interview, Kennedy said, “I think anybody who is transgender, people who have made choices about their lives, should be respected, they shouldn’t be shamed. They should not be made second-class citizens, and they shouldn’t be made to feel bad about those choices.”

Though his comment didn’t specifically address trans bathroom access, his response suggests that he’d possibly oppose restrictions on trans use of public bathrooms.

Don’t say gay/LGBTQ+ discussions in schools

When asked about LGBTQ+ issues in schools during an August 2023 interview with WHNS-TV, Kennedy said, “Education should be decided by the parents. They should be involved. What happened during… the COVID lockdowns was a lot of parents were, for the first time, watching what their kids were learning at schools… and they became alarmed at some things that were contrary to their values…. Parents need to have the final say about what’s taught to their children in schools.”

Kennedy accepted and then turned down an invitation to speak at the annual summit of Moms for Liberty, an anti-LGBTQ+ “parents’ rights” group that supports laws banning LGBTQ+ content and books from classrooms. When asked about it, Kennedy said that a campaign staff member accepted the invitation before his staff learned more about the group’s anti-LGBTQ+ stances.

“I made a mistake by accepting that invitation…. A member of my staff, through no fault of her own, accepted that, and when I found out that [anti-LGBTQ+ animus] was their position, I declined to go,” he said.

Discrimination protections

When asked about his support for the queer community, Kennedy said, “There will be nobody in the Oval Office who is more supportive of LGBTQ rights than I am. I was with [Ted Kennedy] campaigning in the [San Francisco] Castro [neighborhood] in 1980. It was the first presidential campaign that ever courted the gay vote. It’s very important to me as a civil rights… and they’re civil rights my family has stood for, has fought for, and I will do the same. “

“I don’t agree with anybody who says we shouldn’t respect gay rights or anybody else’s rights,” he added. “If you’re an American, you have those rights, and everybody should respect them, and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure those are protected, and I always have, my whole life.”

Gender-affirming care for minors

While Kennedy doesn’t seem to have made statements on laws restricting gender-affirming care for transgender minors, Kennedy has claimed that chemicals in tap water are turning boys transgender.

“A lot of the problems we see in kids, particularly boys, it’s probably underappreciated how much of that is coming from chemical exposures, including a lot of sexual dysphoria that we’re seeing,” Kennedy said during an interview with transphobic ring-wing pundit Jordan Peterson.

“I mean, they’re swimming through a soup of toxic chemicals today, and many of those are endocrine disruptors,” he continued, adding, “There’s Atrazine throughout our water supply, and atrazine, by the way, if you, in a lab, put Atrazine in a tank full of frogs, it will chemically castrate and forcibly feminize every frog in there and 10% of the frogs, the male frogs, will turn into fully viable females able to produce viable eggs.”

“If it’s doing that to frogs,” he said, “there’s a lot of other evidence that it’s doing it to human beings as well.”

PolitiFact rated Kennedy’s claim as “false,” noting, “No scientific studies in humans have linked atrazine exposure to gender dysphoria…. Differences in human and frog biology mean these findings do not unilaterally extend to humans.”

Kennedy’s career

  • Graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts in American history and literature in 1976
  • Graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law with a Juris Doctor degree in 1986
  • Graduated from Pace University with a Master of Laws
  • Served as an assistant district attorney for Manhattan from 1982 until July 1983
  • Volunteered for the Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Served as an environmental lawyer for the Hudson Riverkeeper and the Long Island Soundkeeper
  • Founded the Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University School of Law in 1987
  • Co-founded the bottled water company Keeper Springs in 1998, sold it in 2013
  • Co-founded the Waterkeeper Alliance in June 1999
  • Co-founded the environmental law firm Kennedy & Madonna, LLP in 2000
  • Co-founded the news site EcoWatch in October 2011, resigned in 2018
  • Served as a lawyer for the Morgan & Morgan law firm in 2016
  • Became a prominent vaccine skeptic during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 – 2022

In conclusion

While Robert F. Kennedy Jr. supports same-sex marriage, he has yet to announce specific policy positions on LGBTQ+ content in schools, trans bathroom access, and gender-affirming care for minors, leaving the extent of his full allyship in question.

Stay informed about his career by subscribing to the LGBTQ Nation newsletter.

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