The panel was the first to discuss LGBTQ issues among the 2020 candidates, who focused elsewhere during their prior debates.
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Former VP Joe Biden had the night’s most contentious exchange. Biden’s replies to moderator Lyz Lenz were later described by her as “condescending.”
Biden pointed out that he supported same-sex marriage before President Barack Obama. “I didn’t have to evolve,” he said. But the gaffe-prone senior then called Lenz “a lovely person,” to which she replied, “just asking the questions people want to know.” The exchange caused a kerfuffle on social media from prominent feminists.
“I interpreted it as a little condescending,” Lenz said in a backstage interview, echoing the immediate criticism of some prominent feminists on social media.
Biden was particularly under fire for his praise of VP Mike Pence, who he termed “a decent guy” in earlier remarks. He later walked that back on Twitter with a post that said, “There is nothing decent about being anti-L.G.B.T.Q. rights, and that includes the vice president.”
Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay man to run for president, answered critics who complained that he hasn’t put LGBTQ issues at the heart of his campaign, despite strong support financially from the gay community.
Buttigieg said the country is “still living with the long tail of prejudices,” citing his own inability to donate blood during a local drive.
Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii had to answer to accusations of anti-gay stances, including remarks on “homosexual extremists” from a decade ago. She has since apologize for those remarks.
“My record speaks for itself,” she said, and listed her military and congressional record on equality.
One of the surprising moments of the evening was the appearance of a non-candidate, Karamo Brown, the star of Queer Eye on Netflix and a contestant on this season’s Dancing with the Stars. Brown experienced somewhat of a backlash last month when he called a fellow contestant, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, a “good guy.”
At the forum, Brown criticized not just Trump, but those who work for him. He said that “it is no secret that President Trump and his administration are not friends of the LGBTQ community. It’s not just Donald Trump who is the problem. It’s the people surrounding him.”
A second LGBTQ Democratic candidate event will be hosted by Human Rights Campaign in Los Angeles and will be broadcast on CNN in October.