Updated Oct 11, 2019

LGBTQ town hall: What you need to know

Photo: Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

Nine 2020 Democratic presidential candidates took questions on LGBTQ issues at a CNN town hall Thursday night.

The state of play: 2020 Democrats are pressing for protection against workplace discrimination, advocating for LGBTQ rights abroad, and changing HIV-specific criminal exposure laws. They also support reversing actions taken by the Trump administration that undo LGBTQ protections secured under President Obama.

Billionaire Tom Steyer

His big picture: Steyer argued that his proposal to institute 12-year term limits for Congress would protect LGBTQ rights, since “there’s been a generational shift” on the issue.

Details: He supports reversing the Trump administration's transgender military ban and its effort to deny visas to same-sex domestic partners of U.N. employees. He advocated prosecuting the murders of transgender people as hate crimes and appointing an envoy within the State Department to handle LGBTQ rights.

Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro

His big picture: Castro would build on the Obama administration's LGBTQ policies — particularly on issues like homelessness and acknowledging the bisexual community.

Details: He said that LGBTQ people fleeing violence from other countries based on their sexual orientation should be granted asylum in the U.S. Castro also said he would bring back Obama-era nondiscrimination policies for public housing and that his plan to give housing choice vouchers to those that earn less than 50% of their area's median income would address LGBTQ homelessness.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar

Her big picture: Klobuchar stressed that a president can take action to support LGBTQ people "without Congress," like collecting census data from LGBTQ Americans.

Details: She supports a federal conversion therapy ban and adding a third gender on identity documents for those who identify as neither male nor female. She said she is not in favor of decriminalizing all forms of sex work, which is often tied to LGBTQ issues because transgender women of color often face employment discrimination and can be overrepresented in sex work.

Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke

His big picture: He said that ending the "epidemic of violence" against transgender people should be a top priority in the U.S. and agreed with a protestor who called attention to the murders of black trans women, who are killed at disproportionate rates compared to other trans people.

Details: O'Rourke says religious institutions like colleges, churches and charities should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage. He thinks that laws that criminalize failure to disclose HIV status to a sexual partner should be overturned. O'Rourke said that conversation therapy, which aims to change a person's sexual orientation, should be banned at the federal level, saying the practice is "tantamount to torture."

Sen. Kamala Harris

Her big picture: She recommitted her pledge to end HIV/AIDS "within a generation," saying that she has "sat by the bedside, what turned out to be the death bed, of dear friends who have died from AIDS."

Details: To combat homelessness, particularly for LGBTQ people, she said she would implement a tax credit for people that spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities. She also emphasized that LGBTQ discrimination intersects with discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Her big picture: "I'm willing to continue to push Mitch McConnell right now but my number one goal is to make sure he is not the majority leader come January 2020," she said.

Details: She would decriminalize HIV transmission and lower the cost of PrEP, which reduces the risk of HIV. She emphasized her plan to make a LGBTQ prevention program inside the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and said she would be open to treating crimes against transgender people as hate crimes. On trade, Warren said the U.S. should put more pressure on countries with documented human rights violations against LGBTQ people.

Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg

His big picture: “I’m very mindful of the fact that my experience … as a white cisgender gay man means that there are dimensions, for example, of what it’s like to be a black trans woman, that I do not understand," he said.

Details: He acknowledged what the American Medical Association has identified as an "epidemic" of murders of transgender people, after town hall protestors called attention to it. He endorsed the Equality Act, which would protect LGBTQ people from employment and housing discrimination. He agreed that the criminalization of potential HIV exposure should be changed.

Former Vice President Joe Biden

His big picture: “The American people are better than we give them credit for. But we allow the homophobes to be able to control the agenda," he said.

Details: Biden said he would have an office in his administration's State Department that would promote LGBTQ rights globally. He also pledged to cut aid to countries that persecute gay people, including Saudi Arabia. When asked what he would do as president if the Supreme Court doesn't rule to protect LGBTQ workers' rights, Biden said he would support passage of the Equality Act.

Sen. Cory Booker

His big picture: Booker referred to his own experience with discrimination as the background for his passion for the issue, saying he was "a kid who was raised to understand that my rights and privileges are not enshrined in the Constitution originally. African Americans were fractions of human beings."

Details: When asked what he would do as president if the Supreme Court doesn't rule to protect LGBTQ workers' rights, Booker emphasized the importance of passing the Equality Act. He did not say whether he believes religious schools should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose LGBTQ rights.

Between the lines: Top-polling 2020 Democrats have said that reversing actions by the Trump administration is one of their immediate goals to support LGBTQ rights.

  • "I don’t think it's enough just to reverse negative policies that have happened. It’s important that we expect from our elected leaders that they put in place new policies and programs that help LGBTQ young people," Amit Paley, CEO of The Trevor Project, tells Axios.

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