CEDAR RAPIDS — The audience at the LGBTQ Forum on Friday was eager to hear 10 presidential candidates answer questions on violence against trans women, the military ban on trans soldiers and youth conversion therapy — issues many said have been ignored during the debates so far.
“It’s been such a painful two years, with ongoing destruction toward our lives,” said Denise Hagerla, 47, of Johnston, who identifies as lesbian and gender non-conforming. “I was very excited to hear everybody’s clear and coherent message on what they would do.”
The LGBTQ Forum, organized by The Gazette with One Iowa, the Advocate and GLAAD and held at Sinclair Auditorium on the Coe College campus, was the first in the 2020 campaign season on key issues for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans.
Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay presidential candidate and the mayor of South Bend, Ind., arrived on a stage to a standing ovation from the audience of 700, and was a welcome presence on stage to many potential Iowa caucusgoers.
“He was able to speak from a perspective of my community,” University of Northern Iowa student Megan Janes, 19, said. “That’s really refreshing to see that, especially from a presidential candidate.”
But Buttigieg has far from sewn up the LGBTQ vote, said Janes. She left the forum impressed by the mayor but more so by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.
“To think Buttigieg is the best candidate for the LGBTQ community is tokenism,” Janes said. “There are a lot more factors that play into this than just the fact that he’s a part of the LGBTQ community.”
Warren, who also was welcomed by the rowdy crowd, won many over by naming the 18 trans women of color who have been killed in the United States this year.
“We saw all these candidates scrambling for time, but she decided to devote upward of a minute of her 3-minute opening to name names,” said Kevo Rivera, a 29-year-old from Iowa City. “You could tell she felt moved by just saying all those names. It felt human to me, and I didn’t really see that from a lot of other candidates.”
Aime Wichtendahl, a transwoman and Hiawatha City Council member, said she, too, was impressed by Warren’s decision.
Wichtendahl, 39, said there still is a tendency to “duck away” from LGBTQ issues.
Booker’s time on stage was striking, said Hagerla, of Johnston, who felt the senator was well-versed on issues in her community.
“He wasn’t stumped at all,” she said. “You know, ‘LGBTQ’ just flies off his tongue like he says it all the time.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who had a tense exchange with moderator and Gazette columnist Lyz Lenz, was a disappointment to some, including Janes, the UNI student.
“I don’t know what I expected,” she said. “ … I feel like if he really cared about issues in our community, he would have done his research about how to address the LGBTQ community. He didn’t do that tonight.”
Andrew Lenz, though, said he thought the questions about candidates’ decades-old statements were unfair.
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“Bringing those things to light is important,” said Lenz, 38, of Golden Valley, Minn. “But I wanted less examination of past records and more about how candidates plan to affect change.”