CNN partners with Human Rights Campaign for first-ever, LGBTQ-specific presidential town hall

CNN partners with Human Rights Campaign for first-ever, LGBTQ-specific presidential town hall

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The United States plays home to about 10 million LGBTQ voters who are awaiting the 2020 presidential election. 

For these constituents, and those otherwise concerned with queer politics, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation is partnering with CNN to host a live town hall for the Democratic presidential hopefuls to duke it out over their stances on LGBTQ rights. The “Power of Our Pride” event takes place Oct. 10, the eve of the 31st-annual National Coming Out Day and marks the first time in history that a major cable news network will broadcast a presidential town hall devoted to LGBTQ issues.  

Former Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary Julian Castro and Senators Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren have confirmed their event participation, along with Mayor Pete Buttigieg — the first out candidate to make significant strides in the presidential race.

Slated to take place at event venue The Novo in Los Angeles, California, the town hall will air exclusively during prime time on CNN and CNN en Español. The Human Rights Campaign is asking LGBTQ community members nationwide for their input on topics to be discussed. Options include combatting the rise of hate violence against trans women of color, providing support to LGBTQ DREAMers and passing a national Equality Act that would provide consistent non-discrimination protections for queer people. 

Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a release that the town hall comes at a critical time in the country’s fight for LGBTQ equality. He cited that 30 states still reserve the right to fire, evict or deny services to queer folks based on their identity, while 35 allow conversation therapy for LGBTQ youth. 

“For nearly 40 years, the Human Rights Campaign has fought to realize a world in which LGBTQ people are safe, equal and free in every aspect of our lives,” David said. “Today, at a time when our most basic civil rights and democratic values are under attack, our work has never been more urgent. We are eager to hear from this field of Democratic presidential candidates about how they plan to win full federal equality, defend the fundamental equality of LGBTQ people and protect the most vulnerable among us — both here in the United States and around the globe — from stigma, institutional inequality, discrimination and violence.”

Since 2016, the Human Rights Campaign has identified more than 57 million “equality voters” nationwide who prioritize LGBTQ-inclusive policies, like marriage equality, equitable family law and laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

In 2018, when midterm elections for the U.S Senate and House of Representatives occurred, LGBTQ voters cast more than 7 million ballots, representing a 70 percent turnout rate within the queer community, versus 49 percent of the general population. 

The Human Rights Campaign-CNN town hall comes after President Donald Trump’s administration has instated bans on trans people serving in the military, appointed two conservative justices to the Supreme Court, prohibited U.S. embassies from flying Pride flags during Pride month and proposed legislation targeting Obama-era LGBTQ protections in health care and homeless shelters. 


How participating candidates stack up on LGBTQ issues


Castro has a high-marking transcript for supporting LGBTQ folks. 

As the former secretary of housing and urban development under Barack Obama, he led the charge for putting questions focused on the queer population on the U.S. census and championed protections for trans people seeking access to emergency shelters. Before that, as Mayor of San Antonio, Castro signed a 2013 city ordinance banning discrimination in housing, public accommodations and employment on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. 

In June at a Human Rights Campaign fundraiser, Biden condemned the Trump administration’s rollbacks on LGBTQ protections, likening the moves to “bullying.” Biden publically supported gay marriage in 2012, when many politicians were just gaining steam on the issue. 

At a CNN town hall in April, Harris, who previously served as both district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California, called for the decriminalization of sex work and said she had married same-sex couples at San Francisco’s City Hall as early as 2004. The legal expert received some backlash online after the event, though, after seemingly mixing up trans women and trans men when she said, “You’ll remember the tragic cases involving transgender men who were killed.”

Castro had a gaffe of his own during the June 26 Democratic debates when he said, “Just because a woman — or let’s also not forget someone in the trans community, a trans female — is poor, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the right to exercise that right to choose.” The trans community affected by the right to choose would be trans men and a portion of nonbinary people.

In the case of a successful bid for the Oval Office, Buttigieg has vowed to pass the Equality Act, reverse bans on trans service in the military and enforce the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination provisions. His campaign website also outlines commitments to protecting LGBTQ asylum seekers and combatting “the overrepresentation and mistreatment of LGBTQ people in the criminal justice system.” But a June survey by Whitman Insight Strategies and BuzzFeed News found 87 percent of LGBTQ people anticipate he’ll experience challenges in his campaign due to anti-gay bias. 

Warren has also demonstrated a historical commitment to LGBTQ rights. The Massachusetts senator co-sponsored the Equality Act and reintroduced a bill this summer that would allow married gay couples to file to collect federal tax refunds dating back to the start of their matrimonies. On Sept. 7, Warren tweeted in response to a homophobic slur being painted on a Las Vegas LGBTQ center: “We must call out these hateful attacks wherever and whenever they happen. LGBTQ+ Americans should be able to live free from fear or discrimination. I’m fighting for your rights every day.”

The Human Rights Campaign endorsed Klobuchar, a three-term Minnesota senator, in her 2018 bid. Klobucher also supports the Equality Act, and has said she would reverse Trump’s trans military ban within 100 days of becoming president. 


In addition to prime time viewing on CNN and CNN en Español, those tuning into “Power of Our Pride” can use CNN's mobile apps for iOS and Android, and CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Chromecast and Android TV.

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