Democratic debate ignores LGBTQ issues — again

Democratic debate ignores LGBTQ issues — again

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The September 12 Democratic debate is over, but the discourse about what was and was not discussed is still front-and-center. Former Vice-President Joe Biden has gotten most of the post-debate flak for his suggestion that Black parents can’t raise their children without intervention from the state.

The Republican Party released a video about Biden on September 18 with excerpts from that exchange and others suggesting Biden’s mental acuity is failing, which was promoted on the Fox News website and throughout social media.

Among the candidates, as well as advocates for LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights, there were concerns about what wasn’t discussed in the three-hour debate in Houston.

Despite the presence of Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay person to run for president, on the stage, there was no mention of anything queer except for the references Buttigieg made to his husband, Chasten. Buttigieg also provided one of the night’s most poignant moments at the end of the debate when he answered the question about resilience and said he came back from his deployment in Afghanistan "and realized that you only get to live one life. And I was not interested in not knowing what it was like to be in love any longer, so I just came out."

Buttigieg, who was mayor of South Bend, Indiana at the time, said, "I had no idea what kind of professional setback it would be, especially because, inconveniently, it was an election year in my socially conservative community."

Buttigieg won his re-election overwhelmingly.

While there are a record number of women running for president for 2020 and three — Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D- MN) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — on the debate stage, there was no mention of key women’s issues. As Harris tweeted minutes after the debate, "The #DemDebate was three hours long and not one question about abortion or reproductive rights."

On September 18, CBS News reported that violence against abortion clinics reached a record high last year. Also at a record high are hate crimes against LGBTQ people. The debate was held at a historically Black college and university, and Black trans women have been murdered every month this year, yet none of the moderators raised these issues.

Since the debate, Harris and Warren have tweeted about LGBTQ issues and both noted recent murders of trans women. On September 17, Biden tweeted, "No one should be fired simply because of who they are or who they love. We must pass the Equality Act and ensure LGBTQ Americans are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve."

One of the most concerning issues for LGBTQ people is the Trump administration’s efforts to discriminate against LGBTQ people via healthcare by allowing medical professionals to refuse care based on religious beliefs. In a debate where healthcare dominated, not one candidate — including Buttigieg — raised that issue or even HIV/AIDS, which disproportionately affects gay and trans people.

The next term of the U.S. Supreme Court begins in two weeks, and one of the first cases that will be heard involves job discrimination against gay and trans workers. The Trump Department of Justice has filed an amicus brief to the court saying that gay and trans workers are not covered under Title VII or IX of the Civil Rights Act. The Obama administration had previously said gay and trans people were covered under those sections of the 1964 law. While there were passing references to the courts in the debate, none included these cases.

The National Center for Trans Equality responded to the debates with a press release and a new plan called "Transform the White House." NCTE executive director Mara Keisling said of the Houston debate that while she cared about all the issues being addressed and, "These are all issues that I care about, and ones that I believe all trans people care about," she noted that "missing from the discussion, for the third time in a row, was a thoughtful discussion about transgender equality."

Keisling announced, "This is why the NCTE Action Fund has launched Transform the White House, a multi-faceted campaign to get the current discriminatory administration out of office. Transgender people have experienced a constant onslaught of hostile actions and dangerous erosion of our rights under the Trump administration. It’s time for us to elect a president who cares about trans people, our families, and our allies."

NCTE has released five videos interviewing candidates on what they’ll do to protect transgender rights and intends to interview every candidate who responds to NCTE’s request for an interview.

While HRC and CNN have partnered for an LGBTQ debate in October, not every candidate has agreed to be part of that debate. Additionally, not all audiences will tune in for what many non-LGBTQ people see as "not their issue," as one local Democratic strategist put it.

The next national debate will be held at Otterbein University in Ohio on October 15 and 16. It will be televised on CNN and is co-sponsored the New York Times.


For more info on the NCTE initiative, visit

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