CEDAR RAPIDS — Owen Masternak drove with his mother, Jen Masternak, from Grand Rapids, Mich., for Friday’s LGBTQ Presidential Forum.
The 14-year-old, who is transgender and pansexual, was looking forward to hearing Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., speak — a presidential candidate Owen sees a little of himself in.
“A candidate I know isn’t going to take away basic human rights is comforting,” Owen said.
Owen and Jen were outside Sinclair Auditorium on the Coe College campus in Cedar Rapids campaigning for Buttigieg as more than 200 people lined up outside for the forum. They held signs with the Pride flag that read “Boot Edge Edge” — a phonetic spelling of Buttigieg.
Jen, 46, is proud of her son, and excited about a candidate she feels would make the world a safer and more accepting place for him.
“I couldn’t be more proud (of Owen). There are not a lot of eighth-graders who have that bravery. You want to see a future for your kid that is all-inclusive,” Jen said. She said people who have only negative things to say about the LGBTQ community probably have never met anyone who is LGBTQ.
This is the first presidential election Jen has traveled at specifically to see a candidate. Hearing from all the candidates on issues facing the LGBTQ community is important, she said.
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Outside the auditorium, booths touted support for former Vice President Joe Biden, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former housing Secretary Julian Castro, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Minnesota Sen, Amy Klobuchar, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Of those, only Sanders did not accept an invitation to appear at the forum.
There were no signs of anti-LGBTQ rights demonstrators outside the venue.
Marlys Boote, 59, from Iowa City, said the presidential forum is “moving us into the next century.”
“Given the number of LGBTQ people in this country, our issues need to be addressed instead of swept under the carpet,” Boote said, who was attending the forum with her wife, Margi Newman, 54, from Iowa City.
Boote and Newman have been married for 10 years and together for 20. They got married the year after same-sex marriage was legalized in Iowa.
Boote said LGBTQ people are getting closer to being treated as equals in the United States — but they’re not quite equal yet.
Newman would like to see strengthened employment rights for LGBTQ people. “Friends have been thrown out of their jobs because they’re gay,” Newman said.
She would also like to see equal rights for LGBTQ couples looking to foster and adopt.
Newman and a former partner adopted two kids from Cambodia in 1998. Her partner adopted the children as a single parent, leaving Newman with no legal parental rights of her own.
“It’s criminal given how many kids are sitting in foster care,” Newman said about the challenges same-sex couples face trying to adopt.
John West, 43, from Chicago, campaigned for Harris outside the forum.
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West cited Harris’ work to get same-sex marriage legalized as California attorney general in 2013.
“Her work toward marriage equality allowed my husband and I to get married,” West said as he stood on the edge of First Avenue E with a Harris sign.
West said this presidential forum was “particularly” important, with protections needed for LGBTQ people in employment and housing, and to address the rise in murders of transgender women of color.
The Democratic Party and its base is deeply invested in the LGBTQ community, West said.
“Not long ago, you wouldn’t see something like this on a national platform,” he said as he worked to hold back tears. “I’m glad to see such a large number of candidates here.”
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