The LGBTQ Presidential Forum highlighted how differently each candidate who participated would govern on LGBTQ issues compared with President Donald Trump.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has orchestrated an unprecedented assault on the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ people and people living with HIV are now more vulnerable to discrimination in health care, social services, employment, education, and access to basic government services and civic institutions.
Instead, candidates offered plans for including all people in American life — demonstrating the need for the forum in the first place. It marked the first time this cycle candidates were questioned about national LGBTQ policy issues in a public forum. Moderators asked questions about issues facing rural areas specifically, including the need for increased health care access and policies that improve social connectedness and reduce discrimination.
Here are a few actions offered by candidates that bring us closer to equality for LGBTQ Iowans.
• Pass the Equality Act. Everyone should have a fair chance to go to school, earn a living, and make a home for their families. That is not the case for LGBTQ Americans currently. Only 21 states offer basic legal protections for LGBTQ people, and laws vary by state. An LGBTQ Iowan family traveling to Nebraska, Kansas, or Missouri faces significant risk merely by crossing state lines.
A majority of LGBTQ Americans report they or a friend or family member who is also LGBTQ have experienced “multiple forms of discrimination.” It’s clear that we need the Equality Act. The Act would also mitigate discriminatory measures like Iowa SF 274, which lets campus groups discriminate against LGBTQ students while accessing public funds and publicly subsidized venues.
• Repeal federal religious refusal regulations. These rules give government employees and health care providers license to discriminate against LGBTQ people by claiming that providing services to an LGBTQ person would violate their religious beliefs or sincerely held principles. In practice, these rules take the concept of religious freedom and weaponize it. True religious freedom protects an individual’s right to worship — or not — and harms no one. As Mayor Pete Buttigieg pointed out at the forum, these rules don’t just hurt the people being discriminated against; they are also “an insult against faith.”
• Ban conversion therapy. Major medical associations advise mental health clinicians against trying to change someone’s LGBTQ identity. Currently, 18 states and the District of Columbia ban conversion therapy, but not Iowa. Numerous studies show that conversion therapy for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals is associated with poorer mental health outcomes. A recent study in JAMA Psychiatry documented an alarming association between conversion therapy and attempted suicide, with transgender people who’ve undergone conversion therapy at any point in life more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who’ve never undergone such therapy. This practice isn’t just ineffective; it’s dangerous and should be banned.
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• Defend and expand the Affordable Care Act (ACA). By banning insurance companies from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions and making Medicaid available to millions more people, the ACA has been key to providing health insurance to Americans previously denied. The results are dramatic for LGBTQ Americans and people living with HIV, who’ve seen their rates of uninsurance cut in half since key provisions of the ACA were implemented. Restoring all protections afforded by the ACA would also prevent discriminatory measures like HF 766, which deny full health care to transgender Iowans.
We know passage of new laws will not end discrimination. But it’s an important step, and we need leadership that honors the humanity of all and not just some. As Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) pointed at the forum: “We have to start somewhere.”
Dan Royer is executive director of One Iowa, which advances, empowers, and improves the lives of LGBTQ Iowans statewide. Sean Cahill is the Director of Health Policy Research for The Fenway Institute at Fenway Health and a co-author of the policy brief “Trump administration continued to advance discriminatory policies and practices against LGBT people and people living with HIV in 2018.”