Government

10 candidates in Cedar Rapids forum vow to embrace LGBTQ policies

CEDAR RAPIDS — Ten Democratic presidential hopefuls promised Friday to reverse policies of the Trump administration they said discriminate against LGBTQ people and to instead support policies to protect them on the job, in the military, housing and health care.

“No. 1, I would undo all the damage President Trump has done by revoking the executive orders” of the Obama administration, former Vice President Joe Biden said at an LGBTQ Presidential Forum held in Cedar Rapids.

Though there have been numerous group gatherings of Democratic candidates, this one was significant as the “first ever presidential forum focused specifically on LGBTQ issues in the Heartland, and the largest number of presidential candidates to ever gather and speak directly to LGBTQ people,” said One Iowa Executive Director Dan Royer. One Iowa, The Gazette, The Advocate and GLAAD sponsored the forum at Coe College that attracted some 750 people, as well as people around the nation watching the livestream online.

All the Democratic candidates actively campaigning in Iowa were invited to attend; 10 did.

The last presidential candidate forum to address lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer issues was in 2008, said Drew Anderson of GLAAD, and those issues received little attention in 2016.

“So this means a lot to us,” he said.

It was an important opportunity for the candidates to make their case directly to some of the 87,000, or 4 percent, of Iowa voters who identify as LGBTQ, according to the Human Rights Campaign. There’s also 449,000, or 23 percent, who are equality voters — LGBTQ people and their friends, family and allies.

“I imagine all of these candidates on stage tonight would love to have those 87,000 people caucusing for them,” said Zeke Stokes, chief programs officer for GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization.

However, he doesn’t think LGBTQ people have aligned behind any one candidate.

“I think it’s very much up for grabs,” Stokes said.

The candidates sounded similar themes in promising to undo many of President Donald Trump’s polices, work with Congress to pass the Equality Act and take action to protect transgender Americans, especially trans women who have been the victims of fatal violence 18 times this year.

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Although they were asked about their policies going forward, many of the candidates said their records should inform LGBTQ voters.

Stokes wasn’t sure that would be enough to win their support.

LGBTQ people are not looking for a “casual ally,” he said. “I think our community is looking to hear what are you going to do to reverse the travesty of this Trump record and what’s your plan to get us to full equality and acceptance,” he said.

However, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Preya Samsundar defended her party’s record of accomplishment.

“We continue to support and welcome all members of the LGBTQ community to the Republican Party,” she said.

In some cases, candidates had to defend their records.

Biden was grilled about his past support of the Defense of Marriage Act and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He later supported repealing those policies.

He expressed pride in his record of being one of the first people on the national stage to come out in support of same-sex marriage. Biden related a story from when he was a high school student and saw two men kiss.

“It’s simple,” Biden said his father told him. “They love each other.”

“I didn’t have to go through a period of adjustment,” he said. “I came out in support of gay marriage before anybody else did nationally.”

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New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris reminded the audience they were performing same-sex marriages before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned laws banning them.

Booker raised the pride flag over the Newark City Hall in 2006 “before a lot of people evolved,” he said. LGBTQ rights have been “an urgent part of my life for my entire career.”

Booker talked about patriotism as love of country, “but you cannot love your country if you don’t love all your countrymen and country women,” he said.

Harris encouraged people to look at her record on LGBTQ issues.

“This is not new to me,” the former attorney general said.

“When some Democrats were talking about civil unions, I was performing same-sex marriages,” Harris said.

South Bend. Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is openly gay, was introduced as “a member of our community.”

He promised to be a president who, based on his own experience, “understands that all politics is personal.” He would use his authority to appoint an administration and judiciary “that understands that American freedom means you can be who you are and love who you love.”

A veteran, Buttigieg noted it is the eighth anniversary of the end of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they kept their sexual identity a secret.

“I remember the weight that was lifted” when the policy was repealed, he said.

Buttigieg also promised to work to overturn religious exemptions laws, including Iowa’s, which he said allow discrimination against LGBTQ people.

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Those laws are “abusive toward not only LGBTQ people, but abusive toward faith,” Buttigieg said. “Faith is supposed to be about making people whole. When used as an excuse to harm someone, it is an insult to religion itself.”

Hawaii U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a National Guard member who served in the Iraq War, said Trump has sought to divide the nation with wedge issues like banning transgender people from military service.

She served alongside members of the LGBTQ community “and I knew they would give their life for me and I would give my life for them.”

Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar talked about her record as a county attorney prosecuting hate crimes.

She promised to get the Equality Act passed in the first year of her presidency and to appoint a secretary of education who would protect the rights of transgender students to stop bullying, eliminate conversion therapy and invest in mental health to include serving LGBTQ people.

America is a “country of shared dreams,” she said. “No matter who you love, you should be able to do what you want and achieve the things you want to achieve.”

Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren began by reading a list of 18 trans women of color who have been killed so far this year.

“Equality is far off for many people in this country,” she said. “The cost of inequality for trans people has now reached a moment of crisis.”

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Trump’s strategy is to turn Americans against one another so that “as long as people are turned against one another, perhaps they won’t notice he and corrupt buddies robbing the country of wealth and dignity.”

Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro would seek to change the status quo by maximizing executive authority. He promised to appoint a cabinet that looks like America and reflects its diversity, including the LGBTQ community.

Castro said he would overturn the religious exemptions that “license discrimination” in health care, housing, adoption and the military.

“There should be no second-class citizens,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s not true for the LGBTQ community.”

Castro also promised to appoint a task force to investigate deaths of transgender women.

Then he would work with Congress to pass the Equality Act “so you can’t be discriminated against when you go look for a job or a house.”

LGBTQ people should have equal rights “because we’re all Americans,” author-lecturer Marianne Williamson said. There’s something dark going on that she described as a battle between the forces of exclusion versus inclusion.

“Some of us just think this whole diversity thing is so fabulous,” she said. “Some people find that entire idea psychically annihilating to their identity.”

Retired admiral Joe Sestak noted he was elected to the U.S. House with a 95 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign. He said the military wants the best people regardless of their sexual identity, and said he would repeal the ban on transgender soldiers and sailors. That same philosophy should apply across society, he said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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