(Reuters) – Nine U.S. Democratic presidential candidates began appearing at an hours-long televised town hall on Thursday focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, starting with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who stressed inclusion and love.
FILE PHOTO: LGBTQ activists and supporters hold a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments in a major LGBT rights case on whether a federal anti-discrimination law that prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex covers gay and transgender employees in Washington, U.S., October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
The Los Angeles event is the second major presidential forum dedicated to LGBTQ issues during the Democratic nominating campaign, following an event in Iowa last month that drew 10 of the 19 candidates vying to take on U.S. President Donald Trump.
Booker has written about his evolution from homophobic youth to college activist for LGBTQ rights.
“You can’t lead the people if you can’t love the people – all the people,” he said at the forum.
Top contender Bernie Sanders missed the event while he recovers from a heart attack.
Gay rights advocates have expressed dismay at the Trump administration’s record on LGBTQ issues, including a ban on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military.
Lawyers for the Department of Justice argued at the U.S. Supreme Court this week that federal civil rights law does not prohibit employers from firing workers based on their transgender identity or sexual orientation.
The forum will also include South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay U.S. president; former Vice President Joe Biden; U.S. senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar; former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke; former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro; and businessman Tom Steyer.
Ahead of the forum, Warren, Buttigieg and Harris released plans to secure equality for LGBTQ people.
All three support the Equality Act, like most other Democrats, which would explicitly add LGBTQ protections to federal anti-discrimination law.
They also vowed to make pre-exposure prophylaxis, a drug that helps lower the risk of contracting the human immunodeficiency virus, accessible and affordable to all who want it.
Buttigieg said he would eliminate the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030, in part by restoring the White House Office of National AIDS Policy that has gone dormant under Trump.
All three candidates promised to elevate LGBTQ concerns as president. Warren said she would appoint a special envoy at the State Department, while Harris said she would create a new White House position, Chief Advocate for LGBTQ+ Affairs, to coordinate efforts across the entire federal government.
“Twenty years ago, an awkward teenager at St. Joe High School in South Bend, Indiana, who didn’t know a single out LGBTQ+ student there, never would have imagined how far we would come as a country,” wrote Buttigieg, who has spoken frankly in public about his struggle to come out. “But what does our country look like to a teenager in 2019, just starting to realize who they are?”
Thursday’s forum represents a fresh opportunity on the issue for Biden, who has seen his lead in polls wiped out by Warren’s recent surge.
Biden found himself defending his LGBTQ record at last month’s event in Iowa, including his 1993 vote for the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which banned harassment of closeted gay soldiers but barred those who were out from military service, a compromise with social conservatives now widely viewed as discriminatory and outdated. .
He later backed repeal of that policy and, while he voted for a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, he backed same-sex marriage before President Barack Obama, under whom he served as vice president.
Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Tom Brown, David Gregorio, and Paul Tait