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LGBTQ presidential forum: What you need to know

This image is a four-way split screen between Biden, Kamala, Pete, and Warren. They are all speaking into microphones.
Biden, Harris, Buttigieg and Warren. Photos: Scott Olson/Getty Images

At Friday's LGBTQ Presidential Forum, Former Vice President Joe Biden got defensive over his history on LGBTQ rights, Sen. Elizabeth Warren recited scripture to emphasize fighting for equal rights, Sen. Kamala Harris dug into policy specifics, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg got personal.

The big picture: 4 of the 5 top-polling candidates — Biden, Warren, Harris and Buttigieg — were among the 2020 hopefuls at the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, event organized by LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD. It was their chance to refine their approach to LGBTQ issues and current affairs ahead of CNN's more exclusive LGBTQ 2020 town hall.

Former Vice President Joe Biden

His big picture: Biden's immediate goals as president would be to reverse actions the Trump administration has taken to undo LGBTQ protections secured under former President Obama's administration and pass the Equality Act. He advocated making conversion therapy illegal.

What's new: Biden again denied that his 1994 crime bill, which introduced the federal 3-strikes law, contributed to mass incarceration among communities of color. Forum moderator Lyz Lenz pinned increased incarceration rates for LGBTQ people of color on the bill, highlighting a largely undiscussed element of the controversial law.

  • The incarceration rate of lesbian, gay and bisexual people is three times that of the general population, a 2011–2012 national inmate survey from the American Journal of Public Health found.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Her big picture: Instead of detailing a plan for her first 100 days in office, Warren read the names of 19 transgender people — predominately black women — who were killed in 2019. Reading those names emulated the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance and marked a historic moment at a presidential forum.

What's new: Warren argued that Congress should move to protect LGBTQ rights before the Supreme Court hears arguments on Oct. 8 for 3 cases that could determine if sexual orientation and transgender identities are protected under the Civil Rights Act.

Sen. Kamala Harris

Her big picture: Her immediate goals as president would be to revoke the Trump administration's transgender military ban, pass her PrEP Act that requires private and public insurance plans to cover the HIV prevention drug, and pass the Equality Act.

What's new: Harris discussed her experiences with pushing back against the "gay panic defense" and said she investigated sexual assault against LGBTQ people as district attorney of San Francisco.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg

His big picture: Buttigieg's immediate goals as president would be to undo Trump's transgender military ban, pass the Equality Act, push housing policies that address homelessness among LGBTQ people, and banning conversion therapy. He emphasized that, as a gay man, he understands that "all politics is personal."

What's new: He discussed his personal experience of serving as a gay man in the military under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" — a historic discussion at a presidential forum. "I also remember the weight lifted when that was no longer a threat to my career," he said.

What's next: The Oct. 10 CNN town hall on LGBTQ issues, hosted by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, will enforce the same qualification requirements as October's primary debates. 9 candidates have said they will attend so far.

Go deeper: All the ways Trump has targeted LGBTQ protections