Twenty candidates have qualified to appear in the first nationally televised debates of the Democratic Party for the 2020 presidential primary season, including openly gay South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. One of four questioners for those candidates will be lesbian political analyst Rachel Maddow. All that, and the fact that the debates take place just one day shy of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, makes the odds pretty good that LGBT-specific issues will come up during the June 26 and 27 debates.
But several Democratic candidates for president have been prominently showcasing their support and commitment to the LGBT community all month —speaking at pride celebrations, making statements in recognition of the third anniversary of the mass shooting at the Orlando LGBT nightclub Pulse, and —in a few case announcing very specific priorities for how they will tackle the needs of the LGBT community should they be elected president.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was the first to release a plan, introducing her "LGBTQ policy agenda." The 30-point plan calls for signing the Equality Act immediately upon passage, directing the Department of Justice to treat sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected minority under non-discrimination laws, ending Trump's ban on transgender service members, "permanently codify[ing] marriage equality as the law of the land," prohibiting federal funds to child welfare agencies that discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity, addressing the high suicide rate among LGBTQ youth, ensuring protection of LGBTQ youth under Title IX, and supporting a national ban on conversation therapy. Gillibrand has also gone all out for the LGBT vote in Iowa this month speaking at the pride rally and working behind the bar at an LGBT watering hole in Des Moines, and arm wrestling a 20-year-old lesbian in Ames.
Former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke issued a 33-point plan "LGBTQ + Equality" on June 12. While about half of O'Rourke's points are similar to Gillibrand's ( such as support for the Equality Act, ensuring federal funds do not support discrimination in foster care, and banning conversion therapy, quite a few are unique. For instance, O'Rourke calls for creating an Interagency Task Force whose goal is to end "discrimination in federal programs and actions." He says he would appoint judges and executive branch officials "who have a demonstrated record of supporting the full civil rights of every person." And he would "revitalize" the White House Advisory Council on HIV. O'Rourke also paid special attention to LGBT voters this month, holding an "LGBTQIA town hall" in San Antonio, ran in a two-mile LGBT Memorial run in New York City and a 5K Pride Fun Run in Des Moines.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading all current polls of Democratic presidential nomination hopefuls, spoke before a Human Rights Campaign dinner in June, sharing at length his understanding of discrimination against LGBT people and the need to do more.
"For all the hard-won progress you have made, for as much as we can celebrate how much better things have gotten, this fight —as you knowis not nearly over," said Biden. While he didn't unveil a "plan," Biden did venture one promise: supporting the Equality Act, a Congressional bill that seeks to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations, employment, housing, and other areas.
"I guarantee you that, if I get elected president, it will be the first thing that I ask to be done," said Biden. This came three months after Biden re-couched his assessment of Vice President Mike Pence as a "decent guy" after LGBT leaders and activists reminded him that Pence has a long record of disparaging LGBT people in words and deeds. "You're right," he posted on Twitter, "…there is nothing decent about being anti-LGBTQ rights…."
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, the second place holder so far in Democratic polling, includes the "Fight for LGBTQ Equality" as one of 25 issue pages on his campaign website, right beneath the "Fight for Women's Rights." The LGBTQ page says "We must:" and then lists a number of actions, including passing the Equality Act, health insurance without discrimination, and "Strongly oppose any legislation that purports to 'protect' religious liberty at the expense of others' rights."
Out of 23 Democratic presidential candidates, only three did not meet the criteria set by the Democratic National Committee to qualify for the national televised debates June 26 and 27. They are U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Governor Steve Bullock of Montana, and Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar, Florida. That does not mean that their campaigns are over; simply that they did not reach a threshold of one percent support in at least three national polls or record campaign contributions from at least 65,000 people.
The 20 candidates who did qualify to participate in this month's debates will be split equally between to two dates, in random order ( not based on money raised or current polling status ). NBC announced Friday who will appear when. Buttigieg will appear on the second night's stage, along with frontrunner Biden, second place Sanders, and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, who has been trading places frequently with Buttigieg for fourth places, and Gillibrand who has been polling at only one percent and has not been among the top ten favorites yet.
The first night's debate will include U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is holding onto third place in recent polls, and O'Rourke who has been making the top ten but with only about four percent of the vote.
One presidential candidate whose efforts to make some kind of gesture toward the LGBT community this month seemed to fall flat was Republican President Donald Trump. On May 31, he posted a message on Twitter saying, "As we celebrate LGBT Pride Month and recognize the outstanding contributions LGBT people have made to our great Nation, let us also stand in solidarity with the many LGBT people who live in dozens of countries worldwide that punish, imprison, or even executive individuals …on the basis of their sexual orientation. My Administration has launched a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality and invite all nations to join us in this effort!"
Some respondents on Twitter reminded readers that President Trump and his appointees have systematically moved to undermine equal rights for LGBT people in virtually every department since he took office. And Trump himself has befriended and spoken highly of the leaders of several countries which are notoriously hostile to LGBT people, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called Trump's Twitter posting "gross hypocrisy, with an emphasis on gross."
"You can't celebrate Pride and constantly undermine our rights," said Griffin.
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