Nine candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination took the stage Thursday evening in downtown Los Angeles to field questions that addressed their policies that support the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning people.
Major issues discussed at the “Power of Our Pride” forum included the U.S. Supreme Court case that will decide whether employers can fire employees based on their sexual orientation, which is expected to be heard in mid-November, as well as violence against LGBTQ members and the ban on transgender people on serving in the military.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, said his views on the LGBTQ community evolved after he said he had negative views of gay people until he was a teenager and came to understand their struggles. He said as president he would command a Department of Education that creates inclusive environments for students.
“We must use our Department of Education’s Civil Rights Division to go after schools that are denying people equal rights and equal protections,” Booker said. “I will actively, as much as people who were activists who fought for that equality for black Americans … I will fight with the same ferocity for LGBTQ Americans.”
When asked if religious schools should be stricken of their tax-exempt status if they oppose LGBTQ rights, Booker skirted the question by saying there should be “consequences,” but wouldn’t give a yes-or-no answer.
Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke about how some people in the U.S. are ignorant of the country’s civil rights laws.
“This is a civil rights issue, protected by … the Civil Rights Act,” Biden said. “The American people are better than what we give them credit for, but we allow the homophobes to be able to control the agenda.”
Biden also said as president he would work to allow transgender people serve in the military and work to make them eligible for veterans’ benefits.
Biden said that if the Supreme Court rules that sexual orientation can be evidence to fire someone, he said he would advocate for passing a sweeping Equal Rights Act.
The only openly gay candidate in the race is South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who said he is mindful of the broad spectrum of LGBTQ people.
The forum was temporarily interrupted by a protest that at least two people staged before Buttigieg spoke, as they blocked the view of the stage with a flag, and some people in the audience chanted what sounded like “trans lives matter.”
Buttigieg said they were protesting violence against black transgender women, as Anderson Cooper, who moderated Buttigieg’s segment of the forum, called for calm.
“I’m very mindful of the fact that my experience as a gay man, but as a white, cis-gender gay man, means that there are dimensions, for example, what it’s like to be a trans-woman that I do not personally understand,” Buttigieg said.
“I hope that our own community, even as we struggle to define what our identify means, defines it in a way that lets everybody know that they belong among us.”
Buttigieg’s campaign announced Thursday it would seek to create a program to support individuals and communities in “every aspect of their daily lives,” including equitable health care, workplace protections and a national mentorship program for LGBTQ youth.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, outlined her strategy to pass the Equality Act, which was introduced this summer and would provide “non-discrimination” protections for LGBTQ people in many ways.
“What it’s going to take in the Senate is, I’m just going to be blunt, we’ve got to have more Democrats in the Senate,” Warren said. “I want our Republican friends to hear that in the United States Senate. I want them to know people vote based on LGBTQ issues.”
Warren said she would support funding for global expansion of HIV-preventative drugs.
“I want to see us bring down the cost of drugs that are generic,” Warren said. “This drug will be off-patent by then (Inauguration Day), and I commit that in my administration, we will let out a government contract to produce that drug and make that drug available at-cost both here in the United States and all around the world.”
Warren was likely referencing the drug PrEP, which is listed as an HIV-preventative by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
She also suggested for people, she assumed who are mostly men, who believe marriage should be defined to be between one man and one woman, that they just marry one woman.
“If you can find one,” Warren quipped.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, said she had filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court as California’s attorney general in support of LGBTQ access to various rights and that she had concerns about the current configuration of the court.
“We are still at a point in this country where people are treated differently — treated differently — under the law, based on sexual orientation,” Harris said.
Harris also said that housing, education and other necessities are being restricted from LGBTQ people, and that she worked with many transgender teenagers in her role as San Francisco district attorney.
“I have a longstanding — decades long — connection to this issue, and as president of the United States, I promise you that I will put all resources and priority into ensuring that all people are safe … we know, certain populations are subject to hate,” Harris said.
A protester said from the audience that transgender people are being targeted and demanded Harris answer what she will do about it.
“There has to be serious consequence and accountability when it happens, which means there needs to be a safe place for the members of our transgender community to go when they’ve been exposed to that harm,” Harris said, adding those places are most important when transgender people run away from home.
Harris introduced herself as identifying with the pronouns she, her and hers, to which moderator Chris Cuomo replied, “Mine too.”
“Alright,” Harris responded.
Cuomo later tweeted: “PLEASE READ: When Sen. Harris said her pronouns were she her and her’s, I said mine too. I should not have. I apologize. I am an ally of the LGBTQ community, and I am sorry because I am committed to helping us achieve equality.”
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, was questioned on how he would change the mindset of Texans to be more accepting of different sexual orientation, and he said Texas leads the nation in violence against transgender women of color.
“It is still legal, although it is not OK, to be fired in Texas for your sexual orientation,” O’Rourke said, mentioning that some children in the state’s child foster system sleep on desks and other unsuitable conditions rather than let LGBTQ families adopt them.
“You can still be, by law, too gay to adopt one of those children into your loving home,” he said.
O’Rourke said in his LGBTQ plan that religious educational institutions that oppose LGBTQ rights should lose their tax-exempt status, saying it would be a priority of his to enforce that.
His portion of the forum was also interrupted by a woman who took the microphone from the scheduled speaker. She also wanted attention to the abuses of black transgender women.
Seth Owen, a representative of the Foundation to Help LGBTQ Youth, asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, about her policies to the laws that govern conversion therapy, the practice of trying to persuade people that they can choose to be a certain sexual orientation.
“We’ve all seen some of the things that are going on … bad practices, bad policies,” Klobuchar said, adding that she would support not prosecuting sex workers and instead focus prosecution on the managers of human trafficking.
Klobuchar said she would appoint Supreme Court justices that would understand the difference between discrimination and unalienable rights.
“I think that you have got to have agencies that follow the law,” she said regarding the question of tax-exempted nonprofit organizations that don’t support LGBTQ people. “I also think you’ve got to recognize (support) adoption for gay families.”
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro said when he was mayor of San Antonio, his administration oversaw the passage of a “non-discrimination ordinance” and that speaks to his support for LGBTQ people. He focused on the transgender community after the protests from earlier in the evening.
“One of the things I did (as Housing and Urban Development secretary) is I expanded the equal-access rule to the transgender community so that transgender individuals (are) accommodated.”
Castro said the way to helping transgender people is to listen to them and heed their concerns.
“As president, I would make sure … we appoint people, including members of the LGBTQ community, to the cabinet,” Castro said.
Castro said part of his plan is to end homelessness by 2028.
Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer said term limits on Congress would help move forward the LGBTQ rights issues by bringing in new representatives. He said he had worked to support making drugs that would help stem the AIDS epidemic.
Taking a question from a transgender black man, Steyer said he would seek punitive measures that would protect LGBTQ minorities.
“There is nothing that I can think of that would be more painful as an American … that there are citizens in our society who are being targeted for who they are,” Steyer said.
“To kill somebody for who they are, that has got to be the definition of a hate crime. We have got to prosecute those as severely as possible as a symbol of who we are … and every prosecutor has got to know that.”
The forum was organized by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and broadcast on CNN. The Human Rights Campaign bills itself as the world’s largest LGBTQ-rights organization, with more than 3 million members and supporters.
Each candidate appeared for 30 minutes. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was originally set to appear at the event, but had to cancel his appearance after suffering a heart attack. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang both declined invitations to participate, citing scheduling conflicts, according to organizers.
Conservative talk show host Ben Shapiro tweeted, “The statements these Democrats are making on the CNN LGBT townhall are designed to tear America apart on a cultural level.
“Beto suggesting the revocation of ALL traditional church tax-exempt status, Booker blaming the Pulse shooting on `white supremacy,’ Klobuchar committing to a third gender option on federal ID — this is all extreme, insane stuff.
“The Trump campaign now has a near endless-supply of commercials.”
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