At LGBTQ forum, Democratic candidates offer support, defend records

Stephen Gruber-Miller, Des Moines Register

CEDAR RAPIDS, Ia. — Ten Democrats spoke passionately Friday night about their support for the LGBTQ community, even as some faced tough questions about their record on same-sex marriage and trans rights.

The presidential candidates spoke at a forum at Coe College in Cedar Rapids dedicated to LGBTQ issues and organized by The Cedar Rapids Gazette, The Advocate, GLAAD and One Iowa. The candidates were largely united in their goals, with many saying they would pass the Equality Act, an anti-discrimination bill, and promising to repeal President Donald Trump's ban on transgender people serving in the military.

But several candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, faced critical questions about their records.

"In 1994, you did vote for "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and in 1996 you did vote for the Defense of Marriage Act. You did vote to repeal both of those but you have also praised Vice President Mike Pence as a decent guy," moderator Lyz Lenz, a columnist at The Gazette, said to Biden.

"You're a lovely person," Biden replied.

"Just asking the questions that people want to know," Lenz said.

More: LGBTQ forum moderator says Joe Biden called her 'a real sweetheart' after tough questions

Biden responded by saying he was "the first person nationally to come out for same-sex marriage" when he voiced his support on Meet the Press in 2012.

He wasn't the only candidate to face questions about their record. Sen. Kamala Harris of California was asked about her actions as California attorney general in defending a law that denied gender transition surgery for trans inmates.

"Behind the scenes I got them to change the policy," Harris said, promising to work behind the scenes to get agencies to change course when these kinds of issues arise.

Harris, like many other candidates on stage, sought to emphasize her longtime commitment to LGBTQ rights.

"You can look at my record to know that this is not new for me," she said. "My entire career I have been a proud ally on all of these issues. And back when some Democrats were talking about civil unions I was performing marriages in 2004 at San Francisco City Hall."

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the only openly gay candidate in the race, said his experience as a member of the LGBTQ community has taught him that "all politics is personal" and talked about his time serving in the military.

Members of the crowd cheer during the LGBTQ Presidential Forum, sponsored by GLAAD, One Iowa, The Gazette, and The Advocate, Friday, Sept., 20, 2019, at Sinclair Auditorium on the Coe College campus in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"I remember serving under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and I also remember the weight lifted when that was no longer a threat to my career. And yet we know that so many Americans are still finding that they are treated as less-than," Buttigieg said.

Many of the candidates also spoke out against what they called an epidemic of violence against trans women of color. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts began her remarks by reading the names of the 18 trans women of color who have been killed so far this year.

"Equality is far off for many people in this country, but the cost of inequality for trans people, particularly trans women of color, has now reached a moment of crisis and it is time for everyone in America to speak out on this issue," Warren said.

The other candidates to speak at the event were author Marianne Williamson, former U.S. Representative and Navy Admiral Joe Sestak, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, U.S. Rep Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at sgrubermil@registermedia.com or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Election 2020: Democrats tout records at Iowa LGBTQ forum