Where do 10 presidential candidates stand on LGBTQ issues?

Gazette looks at presidential candidates' pasts before Friday's LGBTQ forum in Cedar Rapids


With 10 Democratic presidential candidates gathering Friday evening in Cedar Rapids for a forum on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer issues, The Gazette reviewed their past comments, votes and other actions on LGBTQ issues. Here is a synopsis:

Joe Biden

Biden, who served 36 years in the U.S. Senate before becoming vice president in 2009, has the longest political career with the most votes to explain. This is true with LGBTQ issues.

In 1993, Biden voted to ban gay Americans from serving in the military. President Bill Clinton modified that in 1994 with “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which allowed gay men and women to serve if their sexual orientation was secret. President Barack Obama signed the repeal of that ban in 2010.

On same-sex marriage, Biden voted in 1996 for the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing these unions and preventing same-sex partners from the same benefits of other married couples. States started making same-sex marriage legal (the Iowa Supreme Court did in 2009, making it the third state to do so) and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

Biden reversed his earlier positions in a May 2012 interview on “Meet the Press,” where he said he was comfortable with same-sex marriage and believed gay and straight Americans should have the same rights and protections.

Biden, known for putting his foot in his mouth, was criticized in May for telling Seattle donors if someone had made fun of a gay waiter five years ago it would have been brushed off. He seemed to be indicating progress on gay rights, but some donors didn’t like the comment.

“There’s no need for this type of controversy,” Daniel Lippman, a Politico reporter said on CNN. “You don’t want to tick off the gay community, which is a very important part of the Democratic constituency.”

Biden said in June he would make the Equality Act his No. 1 priority if elected president. This bill, passed May 17 by the U.S. House, would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected classes in federal civil rights law.

Cory Booker

The New Jersey U.S. senator long has been a vocal supporter of LGBTQ issues after writing in 1992 in the Stanford Daily newspaper he’d evolved to that position.


The city of Newark, which Booker led as mayor from 2006 to 2013, displayed a rainbow flag for Gay Pride Month in 2007 before it was trendy for many cities and companies to use the symbol.

That gesture stuck out to Kyla Paterson, the first transgender chair of the Iowa Democratic Party’s Stonewall Caucus and an Iowa City resident. Paterson this week endorsed Booker.

“He told me that he would fight the increasing violence against trans women of color,” Paterson said. “He said he’d make sure health care is inclusive of all LGBTQ people. He was talking about banning conversion therapy.”

And, Booker talks about these issues everywhere, including rural Iowa — which isn’t true of all the Democrats running for president, Paterson said.

The Huffington Post reported Booker spoke in 2011 at a Chicago megachurch that has supported anti-LGBTQ policies. Booker’s staff said this year he didn’t know about the church’s stances before he spoke there and would never have done so had he known.

Pete Buttigieg

The openly gay South Bend, Ind., mayor often campaigns with his husband, Chasten Glezman.

In April, Buttigieg said that if opponents of same-sex marriage, including Vice President Mike Pence, have a problem with him, “your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

Buttigieg acknowledges early conflict about his sexual identity.

In April, he told LGBTQ supporters that as he was growing up, if there had been a pill to make him straight, he would have swallowed it immediately. But, he added: “Thank God there was no pill.”

Buttigieg joined the military in 2009, when “don’t ask, don’t tell” still was in effect, and served six years as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserves. This included a six-month deployment in 2014, after the law had been repealed. But he still didn’t tell fellow service members about his sexuality, according to a July article in Stars and Stripes.


“He heard plenty of ‘casual homophobic humor,’ as he put it, in the military weight rooms and chow halls,” the article says of Buttigieg. “He knew no openly gay service member and couldn’t bring himself to become the first. ‘I just wasn’t ready,’ he said.”

Some in the gay community have criticized Buttigieg for downplaying his sexuality.

Buttigieg’s campaign website says he wants to pass the Equality Act, reverse the ban on transgender military service and enforce non-discrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Julian Castro

Castro has said he used his positions in city and federal government to help LGBTQ people avoid discrimination.

On the San Antonio City Council for four years before becoming mayor in 2009, Castro signed an ordinance in 2013 to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for employment, housing and public accommodations, reported Pink News in January. This protected San Antonio residents who had no federal or state anti-discrimination laws, the news outlet noted.

As U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary in the Obama administration, Castro helped expand regulations to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community, he recently told the National Center for Transgender Equality. He spoke specifically about services and advocacy for LGBTQ teens who are homeless.

Castro made some headlines after the June debate when he mentioned the need for abortion access in the transgender community. He mistakenly said transgender females when he should have said transgender men.

Tulsi Gabbard

Gabbard, a U.S. representative, has made a dramatic reversal on LGBTQ issues.

The Hawaii native grew up supporting the Alliance for Traditional Marriage, an organization run by her father, Mike Gabbard, which opposed gay rights.

Tulsi Gabbard said in 2004, when she was a member of the Hawaii House of Representatives, she opposed legislation to fight anti-gay bulling, saying it would be “inviting homosexual-advocacy organizations into our schools to promote their agenda to our vulnerable youth,” the New Yorker reported. She also led a protest against civil unions.


Gabbard apologized to LGBTQ activists in Hawaii in 2012, the New Yorker reported. She took that apology to the national stage in January with a nearly four-minute Twitter video.

“In my past I said and believed things that were wrong and worse, they were very hurtful to people in the LGBTQ community and to their loved ones,” she said. “I know LGBTQ people still struggle ... and still fear hard-won rights will be taken away by people who hold views like I used to. That cannot happen.”

Gabbard’s website lists her U.S. House votes in favor of pro-LGBTQ legislation, including the Equality Act.

Kamala Harris

The California U.S. senator’s history with LGBTQ rights goes back at least to 2004, when she was district attorney of San Fransisco and created an LGBT hate crimes unit, according to her website. As California’s attorney general, she refused to defend Proposition 8, a referendum that invalidated same-sex marriages in the state. The California Supreme Court ruled Prop 8 unconstitutional in 2009.

Harris, who also supports the Equality Act, said if she’s elected president she will reinstate protections for LGBTQ federal workers and prohibit discrimination in federally-funded housing and hospitals.

She also wants to place a third option for gender identity on federal ID cards.

But some LGBTQ advocates have argued Harris has worked against the LGBTQ community in some of her past as a prosecutor.

Harris defended California’s decision to deny a transgender inmate gender-reassignment surgery after a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, noted Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV project, in a February column in Out magazine.

As attorney general, Harris prosecuted “johns,” or clients of prostitutes, which some sex work advocates oppose because of the additional surveillance of prostitutes — some of whom they say are transgender — and need for middlemen that cut into their profits, according to Reason, a magazine that supports free market issues.

But Harris said in a February interview with the Root that she supports the decriminalization of voluntary sex work.

Amy Klobuchar

Like many of the more moderate Democrats in the 2020 race, the Minnesota U.S. senator hasn’t been out front on LGBTQ issues, including same-sex marriage.


She said in a 2009 interview on the State of the Union TV show she supported civil unions rather than legalizing same-sex marriage. But in 2011, Klobuchar co-sponsored the Respect for Marriage Act, which would have overturned the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited same-sex marriage.

The Column, an LGBT media organization based in Minnesota, questioned in March 2011, “Where is Sen. Amy Klobuchar?” on the Defense of Marriage Act repeal because she was one of two Democrats who hadn’t yet signed on to the legislation.

In a recent interview with the National Center for Transgender Equality, Klobuchar said in her first 100 days as president she would replace Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has refused to enforce protection for transgender students as part of Title IX.

Joe Sestak

The former U.S. representative from Pennsylvania served with many LGBT Americans in his 31-year career in the U.S. Navy, he wrote in the Times Leader, a Wilkes-Barre, Pa., newspaper, in 2015.

Sestak said he was serving as a captain when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was passed and he believed it quickly would be ruled unconstitutional. But that didn’t happen for 16 years, during which time Sestak estimated he had to discharge about a dozen service members because of the policy, according to WHYY in Philadelphia in 2010.

“When I got to Congress, I was proud to co-sponsor legislation to end DADT and prohibit the military from discriminating based on sexual orientation,” Sestak said in the 2015 piece and on his campaign website.

Sestak was not a co-sponsor of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, but he was one of 192 co-sponsors of another bill, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2009 (HR1283) that also would have halted the military practice of excluding openly gay service members.

Elizabeth Warren

Warren was a Harvard Law School professor before joining the U.S. Senate in 2012, so she doesn’t have a lot of early votes to consider.

But the Advocate, an LGBTQ-interest magazine and website, called Warren a “persistent champion” in a February story that touts the Massachusetts senator’s 2011 support for marriage equality and anti-bullying measures in schools. Warren encouraged Obama in 2012 to evolve on his views on same-sex marriage “because I believe that is right; marriage equality is morally right,” according to the Washington Blade.

In the 2020 campaign, Warren, Castro and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio were the first to list their preferred pronouns in their Twitter profiles, NBC News reported.


She also was the only presidential candidate to have a booth at DragCon, a drag convention earlier this month in New York City, according to NBC News. The article notes Warren in June reintroduced a bill to help same-sex couples amend past tax returns to be entitled to refunds from before the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Marianne Williamson

The best-selling author and motivational speaker started lecturing on spirituality in Los Angeles in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis, she told The Gazette in June.

“The medical establishment was offering no hope at that time, and (with) relative silence, at that time, of organized religions institutions, there was very little hope being offered on any level,” she said. “I was a young woman giving lectures about a God who loves you no matter what.”

Some LGBTQ advocates have said AIDS patients who tried follow Williamson’s teachings about visualizing away the virus were left feeling unfit when it didn’t work, according to an August article in Slate.

In 1989, Williamson founded Project Angel Food, a mobile food program for people with serious illness, which since has delivered more than 11 million meals, she said.

Williamson said, if elected, she will support the Equality Act, fight discrimination in health care and housing, restore funding to global HIV/AIDS programs, lift the transgender military ban and prohibit conversion therapy, among other steps.

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