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LGBTQ presidential forum in Cedar Rapids a 'sign of progress'

But much at stake in 2020 election, GLAAD official says

A rainbow flag waves in the wind June 4 at the Stonewall National Monument outside New York City’s Stonewall Inn. The site of the 1969 Stonewall uprising is considered the birthplace of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights movement. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
A rainbow flag waves in the wind June 4 at the Stonewall National Monument outside New York City’s Stonewall Inn. The site of the 1969 Stonewall uprising is considered the birthplace of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights movement. (Mike Segar/Reuters)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s a “sign of great progress” that 10 presidential hopefuls are participating in a forum specifically addressing issues affecting the LGBTQ community, Zeke Stokes says.

“You know, it wasn’t that long ago that there were still Democrats running for president who didn’t believe in freedom to marry for all people,” said Stokes, chief program officer for GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization. “So we’ve come a long, long way in the last couple of presidential cycles.”

However, Stokes cautions that the upcoming forum arrives at a time “when we have as much work to do as we ever did to turn things around and get back on track to full equality and acceptance.”

Along with The Gazette, One Iowa and The Advocate, GLAAD is sponsoring the LGBTQ Presidential Forum at 7 p.m. Sept. 20 in Sinclair Auditorium, 1220 First Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids. The forum is sold out but will be livestreamed, including on TheGazette.com. See a list of forum watch events at oneiowa.org/lgbtq-forum-watch-parties.

The Democratic candidates participating are former Vice President Joe Biden, New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, Hawaii U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and author-lecturer Marianne Williamson.

In Iowa, Stokes said, about 87,000 adults identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer or questioning and nationally, the LGBTQ percentage of the population is larger. As a voting bloc, the LGBTQ community made a difference in 2018 in helping Democrats retake control of the U.S. House, he said.

Voters need to hear from as many presidential candidates as possible as early as possible so when they caucus Feb. 3, they know “who is best equipped to turn things around for our community,” Stokes said.

“I think for a long time LGBTQ people, including myself, perhaps believed that progress was a train that only went forward,” he said. “We have seen that electing the wrong person to the White House can put that train in reverse very, very quickly.”

GLAAD and the LGBTQ community in general are looking for a president who will “more than just set a tone,” he said. Members of the community, when looking at the actions of President Donald Trump, are “sort of looking for what these candidates will do to reverse that,” Stokes said.

LGBTQ voters share many of the same concerns as other voters — education, climate change, the environment and the economy, Stokes said. But he said LGBTQ voters want to hear how the candidates’ plans for health care, for example, address issues specific to them.

They’re also concerned with discrimination in employment and housing as well as violence against LGBTQ people, especially transgender women.

“We know that in more than half the states you can be married on Saturday and fired from your job on Monday,” he said. “We’ve got to get that right.”

The forum is significant because issues of importance to the LGBTQ community “have been largely absent from the dialogue so far” — and were four years ago, as well.

Stokes thinks it’s important for Iowans to hear from not only the top-tier candidates, but from all.

“Iowa is the place where some new stars will be made, and perhaps some other stars will fade,” he said. “So this is a chance early on for all of these candidates, no matter where they may be polling right now, to make their vision really clear and give LGBTQ voters a really good set of choices when it comes to choosing who they want to send into this contest.”

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

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