Last night the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) put together a historic presidential debate that focused on LGBT issues for the first time.
HRC President Alphonso David gave the opening remarks, and the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles perform the national anthem (watch them below) before CNN’s Equality in America town hall began. Openly gay TV anchors Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon were prominent among the moderators.
Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren all dropped comprehensive LGBTQ+ agendas Thursday morning ahead of the debate. All of the agendas were notably historic:, addressing everything from LGBT homeless youth, to being fired from their jobs, to ending HIV.
Buttigieg, the first openly gay presidential candidate, released an 18-page plan hours before the forum, saying he would rescind the policy that blocks military veterans from receiving insurance coverage for gender reassignment surgery, and add non-binary gender options on federal documents, including passports.
Buttigieg spoke in personal terms in several of his answers. “There is no right or wrong way to be gay, to be queer, to be trans,” he said. “I hope that our own community, even as we struggle to define what our identity means, defines it in way that lets everybody know that they belong among us.”
Warren brought her A game last night.
“My name is Jacob, and I’m a 9 year old transgender American. My question is ‘What will you do to make sure that kids like me feel safer in schools, and what do you think schools can do better to make sure that I don’t have to worry about anything but my homework?” #LGBTQTownHall
"My name is Jacob, and I'm a 9 year old transgender American. My question is 'What will you do to make sure that kids like me feel safer in schools, and what do you think schools can do better to make sure that I don't have to worry about anything but my homework?"#LGBTQTownHall pic.twitter.com/6etZ7EAW8a
— Protest Therapist (@ihategender) October 11, 2019
Towleroad said Elizabeth Warren’s response to a question posed at Thursday night’s Equality Town Hall is going viral.
Warren was asked what she’d say if an “old fashioned” supporter approached her and said “Senator, I’m old fashioned, and my faith teaches me that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
— MJ Lee (@mj_lee) October 11, 2019
Quipped Warren to roars of laughter and approval: “Well, I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that, and I’m gonna say, then just marry one woman. … I’m cool with that. Assuming you can find one.”
Buttigieg invoked Channing Smith, the Tennessean teen who committed suicide recently after being outed and bullied on Snapchat.
“We can’t let die in vain. We must invest in mental health, battle youth homelessness, and add hate crimes laws to all states.”
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) October 11, 2019
Buttigieg, the only LGBT candidate in the race, said of his faith: “The Christian tradition that I belong to instructs me to identify with the marginalized. It tells me that the greatest thing any of us has to offer is love. Using my religion—any religion—as an excuse to harm others is an insult to faith.”
The Christian tradition that I belong to instructs me to identify with the marginalized. It tells me that the greatest thing any of us has to offer is love. Using my religion—any religion—as an excuse to harm others is an insult to faith. #EqualityTownHall pic.twitter.com/rhZt3n7F59
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) October 11, 2019
And there were protests. Mostly from trans women seeking protection from their disproportionately high murder rates. According to the New York Times, “Ultimately, one woman took the microphone from an audience member while former Representative Beto O’Rourke was onstage.”
“Black trans women are dying,” said the woman, who gave her name as Blossom C. Brown. “Our lives matter. I am an extraordinary black trans woman, and I deserve to be here.”
There have already been at least 19 deaths of transgender people this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. And last year, there were at least 26 such deaths, most of which were of black trans women.
After they had quieted down, Mr. Buttigieg turned to them, saying, “I do want to acknowledge what these demonstrators were speaking about, which is the epidemic of violence against black trans women in this country right now.”
He continued, “And I believe or would like to believe that everybody here is committed to ending that epidemic, and that does include lifting up its visibility and speaking to it.”
One protester interrupted California Senator Kamala Harris, “How do we get those men to stop killing trans women of color? We are hunted.”
“I know,” Ms. Harris said, addressing the questioner, “I know.”
The candidates’ proposals and comments make clear that they largely agree with one another on L.G.B.T.Q. issues and are making considerable efforts to court voters from the community. And the plans also show just how far the party has moved in the last decade.
When Mr. Obama ran for president in 2008, he said he was opposed to same-sex marriage. That same year, California voters approved Proposition 8, a ballot measure that made same-sex marriage unconstitutional in the state. In 2012, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage, a stance Mr. Obama did not adopt until later that year.
“When I came out,” Mr. Biden began to say on Thursday at the town hall, referencing that decision. “Er, when I publicly stated,” he said, to roars of laughter from the audience. Mr. Biden then went on to talk about how drastically attitudes toward the L.G.B.T.Q. community had changed. “The idea is normal,” he said. “It’s normalized, it’s not anything strange.”