- The Democratic presidential candidates will participate in the first LGBTQ-focused debate on October 10.
- While all 15 candidates are pro-LGBTQ rights, some have had murky pasts on the issues.
- Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Kamala Harris have been long champions of LGBTQ rights.
- As a young politician, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard used to openly support anti-gay legislation.
The 2020 presidential election is already shaping up to make history for its diverse pool of candidates. But it will also make history as the first election to hold a debate focused entirely on LGBTQ issues.
The Human Rights Campaign and the UCLA Luskin School for Public Affairs will host the debate on October 10. Along with the important topic of discrimination, the candidates will debate bullying, transgender rights, and even hate crimes.
Since the Democratic candidates are mostly progressive, it’s no surprise that all 15 are pro-LGBTQ rights – but not all of them have always been champions of the cause.
Take a look at what the presidential hopefuls have said about LGBTQ rights and issues throughout the years.
Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke was once endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign.
While campaigning for a Senate seat against Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, O’Rourke commented on LGBTQ adoption issues in his home state of Texas.
“In this state, with 30,000 kids in the foster care system – a foster care system so under-resourced that recently kids were sleeping on top of or underneath the desks in CPS [Child Protective Services] offices – in this state, they say that under the guise of religious liberty that you can be too gay to adopt one of those children who needs a loving home.”
(Politifact has since delved more in-depth into O’Rourke’s statement that one can be “too gay to adopt” in Texas, illustrating the nuance behind the law.)
During the same campaign, the Human Rights Campaign endorsed O’Rourke.
“Together, we will work to ensure our state finally has a voice in the Senate who is committed to passing the Equality Act,” O’Rourke said in response to the endorsement, “standing up to discriminatory and dangerous measures like [Texas’ anti-transgender bill] SB6, supporting transgender troops serving our country across the globe, ensuring a caring same-sex couple can open their home to one of Texas’ 30,000 children in foster care, and continuing the daily fight for equal justice under law in this country.”
Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper helped legalise civil unions in his state.
In 2012, a bill that would legalise civil unions for same-sex couples in Colorado died on the Republican-controlled state legislature floor. Then-Governor Hickenlooper called a special session of the legislature to make sure the bill passed, and it worked.
At the bill signing, the governor recalled a time when he promoted a gay employee to a manager position at his brewing company in the early ’90s, despite complaints from customers.
“They said they weren’t going to come to our business anymore,” the governor said. “One of our waitresses was standing beside me, and she said, ‘You know, that’s not going to bother any of us at all.'”
After signing the bill, Hickenlooper said, “It is a moment that the whole community has waited for for so long.”
Washington Governor Jay Inslee developed a program to ensure that the LGBTQ community feels safe.
In 2016, Governor Inslee launched Safe Place WA, which challenged state agencies to develop safe places for employees and the larger Washington community.
“We traditionally celebrate June as LGBTQ Pride Month. I believe that as public leaders and servants, though, our commitment to diversity and inclusion extends beyond a single month of recognition,” Governor Inslee said. “Every person in the state of Washington has the right to feel safe, enjoy the benefits of public services and fully participate in civic life.”
In 2018, he signed into law a bill that banned conversion therapy in the state, saying “we are today prohibiting the abuse of our children.”
“We have always believed in civil rights in our state,” Inslee said at the time. “We believe in tolerance for all.”
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been publicly supporting LGBTQ rights as far back as 1983.
In 1983, he signed a Gay Pride Day proclamation when he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont.
He publicly opposed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a military policy barring those in the ranks from disclosing their sexual orientation and their commanders from asking about it, in its early stages back in 1993.
Sanders also voted against the Defence of Marriage Act in 1996,which denied same-sex couples the benefits and recognition of opposite-sex couples. He was one of 67 representatives to do so.
“I thought then and I think now that people have the right to love those folks that they want to love and get married regardless of their sexual orientation,” Sanders said in an interview with CNN.
In 1995, he even jumped to the LGBTQ community’s defence after a fellow congress member called them “homos” when discussing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
“You said something about ‘homos’ in the military,” Sanders said. “Was the gentleman referring to the many thousands and thousands of gay people who have put their lives on the line in countless wars defending this country? Is that the group of people the gentleman was referring to? … I think that they are owed an apology.”
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has tried to end discrimination in the workplace for both moral and economic reasons.
In 2013, Senator Klobuchar spoke out against discrimination of LGBTQ workers. She said, “Discriminating against LGBT workers is not only morally wrong, it’s also bad for business and hurts our economy.”
At the time, she oversaw a report by the Joint Economic Committee, citing statistics that one in five LGBTQ employees has been discriminated against at work. In the same report, she cited the negative economic impacts of the discrimination.
When the Supreme Court found the Defence of Marriage Act unconstitutional that same year, Klobuchar came forward to voice her support for the community again.
“America is a nation founded on equality for all people and today the Supreme Court took a major step toward advancing that equality … As states continue to take up this critical issue, my hope is that they will choose to stand on the side of equality,” she said in a statement.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker presided over the first same-sex wedding in his home state.
As a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights, Senator Booker officiated nine same-sex weddings in New Jersey when it became legal in 2013.
“Tonight, we have crossed a barrier,” he said at the ceremony. “While you all have fallen in love, the state of New Jersey has risen to love.”
Booker also introduced LGBTQ non-discrimination legislation in the Senate back in 2015. More recently, Booker made headlines at the highly publicized Senate confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, when he pushed Kavanaugh on his views of same-sex marriage.
In a 1992 column in his college newspaper, Booker expressed his change of heart toward the LGBTQ community, having once, in his words, “hated gays.”
“I still remember how my brow would often unconsciously furrow when I was with gays as thoughts would flash in my mind, ‘What sinners I am amongst’ or ‘How unnatural these people are,'” Booker wrote in the article. Working with a gay counselor changed his attitude.
“It was chilling to find that so much of the testimony he shared with me,” Booker wrote, “was almost identical to stories my grandparents told me about growing up Black.”
Motivational speaker and author Marianne Williamson wrote about LGBTQ rights on her blog.
In 2015, Marianne Williamson turned to her blog to celebrate marriage equality.
“The LGBT community waged a brilliant strategic campaign and won a well-deserved victory in America this week,” she wrote. “May their win be a blessing on all the citizens whose lives will be improved because of this expansion of their democratic freedoms, and an inspiration to all of us for the work that still lies ahead.”
South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg will be the first openly gay man to participate in a presidential debate.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg says he plans to pass the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“I think one of the big things that we’re looking at, of course, is the Equality Act,” he said in an interview with The Washington Blade. “I live in a state where it is still – not in South Bend because we took local action, but in most parts of my state it’s still perfectly legal to be fired for who you are, and I think we need better legislation, civil rights legislation that takes care of that.”
Buttigieg also plans to enhance transgender visibility if he were elected as the first openly gay president. Perhaps most revolutionary, Buttigieg has said that transgender people in prison should have access to gender reassignment surgery.
“I believe that’s part of health care. We provide health care to people who are serving the country, we provide health care to people who are incarcerated,” he told The Blade. “We need to treat everybody the same.”
California Senator Kamala Harris has a long track record of supporting LGBTQ rights.
As the attorney general of California, Kamala Harris chose not to defend Proposition 8, which attempted to ban same-sex marriage. She co-sponsored a bill that would end “gay panic” defences, used when a perpetrator blames a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity on their ultimate acts of violence. Harris also officiated a same-sex wedding in 2017.
“From the United States Congress to the United States Census, LGBT rights are under attack. Under attack by a Justice Department that now stands on the side of discrimination instead of equality,” Harris said at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner. “Under attack by a Senate nominee who thinks homosexuality should be illegal, and a judicial nominee who says transgender-children are proof of ‘Satan’s plan.’ And under attack by a Commander-in-Chief who wants to ban transgender troops who are willing to sacrifice their lives to defend our country.”
“We will leave no one to fight alone,” Harris also said. “Together we’ll fight for the equality of the LGBT community in all of its diversity.”
In the past, Senator Harris did not support the idea of states paying for gender reassignment surgery in prisons. She filed a court motion to stop a procedure from happening in California.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has fought for LGBTQ rights in the Senate.
As a Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand helped put an end to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and has attempted to pass legislation that would end discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. But when she was a Representative in the House, she backed legislation that supported civil unions and not same-sex marriage.
“I think the way you win this issue is you focus on getting the rights and privileges protected throughout the entire country, and then you do the state-by-state advocacy for having the title,” she told The Advocate.
She, like President Obama, has evolved to embrace same-sex marriage and still stands as one of the earliest supporters for the cause.
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro has been a longtime LGBTQ rights advocate.
Before becoming President Obama’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julián Castro was the mayor of San Antonio where he signed an ordinance that banned discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity in employment.
In 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down an anti-same-sex marriage law, he prompted his state to follow suit.
“Ending the official bigotry that Texas sanctions is both the right thing to do, and it is also good for business,” he said at the time.
As HUD secretary, Castro prioritised helping homeless LGBTQ youth and attempted to dismantle LGBTQ housing discrimination.
“Every American should have access to decent, affordable housing,” Castro said. “It’s a tragedy that so many LGBTQ youth are being mistreated simply because of who they are, making them particularly vulnerable to homelessness.”
Of all the candidates, Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard has had the most controversial past when it comes to LGBTQ rights.
As a young politician in her 20s and having grown up in a conservative household, during a state legislature run in 2002, Tulsi Gabbard was open about her work with The Alliance for Traditional Marriage, an organisation advocating against gay rights lawmakers and in favour of banning same-sex marriage.
Once elected, she voted against anti-gay bullying legislation. At the time, she said the legislation would invite “homosexual-advocacy organisations into our schools to promote their agenda to our vulnerable youth.”
Since joining Congress and announcing her campaign for the presidency, Gabbard has walked back her past claims. She has described her upbringing saying she “was raised to believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”
“But over the years, I formed my own opinions based on my life experience that changed my views – at a personal level in having aloha, love, for all people, and ensuring that every American, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, is treated equally under the law,” she said in a Twitter post.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has long been a champion of LGBTQ rights.
Senator Elizabeth Warren’s voting record demonstrates that she is a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights. She supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and anti-bullying legislation.
In 2011, she came forward and said, “No one – no one – should be discriminated against because of race, colour, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or religion.”
Perhaps most noteworthy, she called out President Obama in 2012 for not being progressive enough on his views of same-sex marriage.
“I want to see the president evolve because I believe that is right; marriage equality is morally right,” she told The Washington Blade.
However, the Senator did face some criticism in 2012 for not supporting a prisoner’s right to gender reassignment surgery, saying it was not a good use of tax dollars.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang’s campaign website touts a largely pro-LGBTQ campaign.
On Andrew Yang’s campaign website, he lays out his plan to end discrimination against the LGBTQ community. To do so, his website promises that he will support legislation that protects the LGBTQ community, he will increase funding for LGBTQ issues and education, and he will appoint people who identify as LGBTQ to senior positions in his administration.
“Who you love and how you love are up to you,” his websites reads. “The law should recognise and protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans individuals. I’ve always been pro-gay marriage; why should straight people have all of the fun? People are people and all love is beautiful.”
Former Maryland Representative John Delaney consistently supported the LGBTQ community while in office.
As a frequent champion of LGBTQ rights, John Delaney came forward this January when President Trump banned transgender people from participating in the military.
“Our country deserves a Commander-in-Chief and a White House that is committed to equality,” Delaney said in a press release. “The President’s decision to ban transgender members of our military abandons our sacred national principles of equality and fairness.”
He went on to say, “The argument being used to justify the banning of transgender members in our military is the same argument that was used to fight integration. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. Today’s ruling reaffirms the point: as long as Trump is in the White House, LGBT rights are at risk.”
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