Democratic candidates place LGBTQ issues front and center at Equality Town Hall

Photo of Democratic candidates place LGBTQ issues front and center at Equality Town Hall

The breakneck speed with which the news cycle moves can be so bewildering at times that it is hard to know which blatant act of corruption taking place in the White House to follow. We can sometimes forget that there are other, not utterly craven and hypocritical people bringing their cases to the American public on issues ranging from health care to LGBTQ rights. On Thursday night, Los Angeles hosted the first-ever Equality Town Hall with nine Democratic primary candidates. CNN moderated the event and the candidates were each given separate time to answer questions from a variety of LGBTQ audience members, concerning LGBTQ issues.

An important moment during the night came thanks to CNN moderator Anderson Cooper, who was able to strike the right tone when transgender activists began protesting during Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s time, chanting “Trans people are dying! Do something!”

COOPER: Let me just point out, there is a long and proud tradition and history in the gay and lesbian and transgender community of protest, and we applaud them for their protest. And they’re absolutely right to be angry and upset at the lack of attention, particularly in the media on the lives of transgender [people of color].

Buttigieg responded after the protests, 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. 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.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg was asked about bans on gay men donating blood, a painful reminder of our country’s homophobia from the early AIDS epidemic years. Democratic officials, like Sen. Warren have argued that the ban is not a scientific one and not only denies gay men a basic human dignity, it is also a terrible public health policy for everyone in need of blood transfusions.

Buttigieg spoke to this homophobic indignity on a personal note, explaining that as a mayor, one of the civic duties he was looking forward to was promoting—by personal example—the annual city blood drive. He remembers realizing that, “My blood is not welcome in this country. And it's not based on science. It's based on prejudice.“


Pete Buttigieg on the prohibition on gay men donating blood: “My blood is not welcome in this country. And it's not based on science. It's based on prejudice.“ #EqualityTownHall

— CNN (@CNN) October 11, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren had a highlight when asked by someone in the audience what she would say to someone coming up to her on the campaign trail and saying, “I’m old fashioned and my faith teaches me that marriage is between one man and one woman. What is your response?”

Without missing a beat, Sen. Warren replied: “I’m going to assume that was a guy who said that, and I’m going to say ‘just marry one woman!’ I’m cool with that.” And then after a sizable applause break, she added, “Assuming you can find one.”


The delivery here makes this even funnier

— jordan (@JordanUhl) October 11, 2019

When moderator Chris Cuomo asked Sen. Warren if there had ever been a time when she was against same-sex marriage, she said there never was, even when she was a Republican, explaining that her church taught her as a child to respect the “preciousness of each and every life.” Telling Cuomo, "And the hatefulness frankly always really shocked me, especially for people of faith, because I think the whole foundation is the worth of every single human being."

Warren also responded to criticisms over her 2012 Senate campaign statements where she called transition-related surgery for a trans inmate a poor use of taxpayer dollars by being frank: “It was a bad answer. I believe that everyone is entitled to medical care and medical care that they need and that includes people who are transgender.”

Sen. Kamala Harris spoke to the need to eradicate HIV/AIDS, promising to work to do just that as the next president of the United States. She also used a powerful interruption from a trans member of the audience to zero in on what needs to be done and what she has tried to do to end the serial murdering of black trans women.


The interruptions as last night's LGBT town hall were important and effective. Watch as @KamalaHarris responds to a woman who is desperate to bring attention to the epidemic of black trans women being murdered.

— Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) October 11, 2019

Former Vice President Joe Biden pointed out that he was ahead of President Obama on supporting gay marriage, and spoke mostly about how much things have progressed in recent years for the normalization of LGBT people in America.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke called for outlawing “gay conversion therapy” practices across the country. Sen. Amy Klobuchar agreed that gay conversion practices made “no sense at all.” Sen. Klobuchar also used her time on stage to make a plea to the audience at home and in Los Angeles to vote and help turn Republican seats into Democratic representation, explaining how few seats are needed to get some of the more progressive legislation we want passed.


Five, four, three, two, one. As I said at the @HRC and @CNN #EqualityForum, every vote counts. And when we take back the Senate and win the White House, we’ll pass the Equality Act the next day.

— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) October 11, 2019

Former Housing Secretary Julian Castro talked about the need for the United States to enforce its human rights ideals by extending LGBTQ protections to anyone in need.


On Monday, I visited Matamoros, Mexico to see the consequences of Trump’s Remain in Mexico policy.I escorted LGBTQ migrants who have been persecuted across the border to get asylum—but they were sent back.This is a gross violation of due process that must be changed.

— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) October 11, 2019

Castro also spoke to the discriminatory practices of the Trump administration and the profound inadequacy of current Housing Secretary Ben Carson, saying Carson was not fit to serve all Americans as secretary of HUD.


If you can’t use your department to serve all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, you shouldn’t be a public servant. Secretary Carson has proven he can’t—he should resign. #EqualityTownHall

— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) October 11, 2019

Tom Steyer promised to put in oversight measures to protect LGBT asylum seekers and ensure they receive equal medical care. He also said he would have no problem appointing the first trans person to his cabinet.

There were failures on the part of the forum, as not a single lesbian-based issue was raised during the night. Hopefully, going forward, the understanding of how broad and diverse the LGBTQ community truly is will be recognized, and that diversity and depth will fill out future town halls. It was an important moment for our country. Having a nationally televised LGBTQ issue-focused forum with major candidates fielding questions and airing their positions and policy ideas is something that would have been considered fantasy only a few years ago.

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