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20 Democrats are debating this week – here are their stances on LGBTI issues

20 Democrats are debating this week – here are their stances on LGBTI issues

Democrats Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg

Twenty Democrats are heading for the debate stage this week, spread across two separate nights. Before watching the numerous candidates put forth their various policies, find out where they stand on LGBTI issues.

The current Democratic field for the 2020 Presidential Election is crowded — there are 25 official candidates running so far.

While there are consistent frontrunners in the polls, it is still largely anyone’s game. This week’s debates, however, the first of the Democratic primaries, will likely help narrow the field for voters. Beyond the fact that only 20 candidates qualified, for some voters, this will be a first-time look at candidates directly discussing a wide range of topics.

The debates, taking place in Miami, will air tonight (26 June) and tomorrow (27 June) on NBC.

Candidates qualified one of two ways. They either — or both — received at least 1% support in three polls from an approved pollster list and received campaign contributions from 65,000 unique donors, including 200 each from 20 separate states.

First debate night’s Democrats

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA)

Senator Elizabeth Warren places Boston Gay Pride photo on her Facebook page
Senator Elizabeth Warren places Boston Gay Pride photo on her Facebook page | Photo: Facebook/Eliabeth Warren
  • Most recent HRC Score: 100
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: N/A

Warren has a long history of supporting LGBTI rights.

She supported the repeal of both the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). She also co-sponsored the Student Non-Discrimination Act. Last year, she co-signed a letter of 19 senators to Trump demanding LGBTI health information remain on federal websites.

In 2015, she joined over 80 other members of Congress in a letter to the Food and Drug Administration. The letter asked for them to lift the ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.

Warren wrote a book, A Fighting Chance, and detailed an exchange she had with a father of a transgender child. She had given a speech on fighting for children’s futures and the father asked her if that included transgender kids, to which she responded: ‘We build a future for all our children. And that means transgender children. ALL our children — no exceptions.’

Like other candidates, she’s apologized for past comments about not supporting gender confirmation surgery.

Most recently, she proposed reparations for same-sex couples and celebrated Pride.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (TX)

Democrat Beto O'Rourke
Progressive candidate Beto O’Rourke | Photo: Wikimedia/US Government
  • Most recent HRC Score: 100
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: Has an entire page, outlining a plan dedicated to LGBTI equality, which includes using executive action to protect LGBTI people.

Not many people knew O’Rourke’s name outside of El Paso, Texas before 2018. Then he burst onto the scene with his run for US Senate. Though incumbent Ted Cruz narrowly beat him, O’Rourke still emerged as a new, progressive hero for the Democratic Party, supported by the likes of Beyoncé.

Though O’Rourke supports LGBTI rights, he does not have the extensive record of some other candidates. However, the Human Rights Campaign endorsed O’Rourke’s senate campaign and also previously gave him a perfect score of 100 while he served in the US House of Representatives.

During his time in the House, he advocated for women’s rights and also supported pro-LGBTI legislation. In 2013, he co-sponsored the  Student Non-Discrimination Act, prohibiting schools from discriminating on the basis of (perceived) sexual orientation or gender identity.

While running for Senate, O’Rourke was also vocally critical of anti-LGBTI judicial nominees from Donald Trump, such as Kyle Duncan.

O’Rourke is the only candidate who has published a plan for addressing LGBTI rights and equality if elected president.

Sen. Cory Booker (NJ)

US Senator Cory Booker has been an outspoken LGBTI ally
US Senator Cory Booker | Photo: Wikimedia
  • Most recent HRC Score: 100
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: ‘Cory is leading the fight for equal justice for all Americans. He is an original co-sponsor of the Equality Act to protect the rights of LGBTQ Americans.’

Cory Booker has been a longtime LGBTI ally throughout his political career — and has been transparent about his evolving feelings towards the LGBTI community.

In 1992, he penned an op-ed for The Stanford Daily in which he did not cushion his past feelings towards gay people.

‘Allow me to be more direct, escaping the euphemisms of my past – I hated gays. The disgust and latent hostility I felt toward gays were subcategories of hatred, plain and simple,’ he wrote.

He also revealed in the same article that in listening to a gay counselor at Stanford explain the discrimination and violence LGBTI people face, he understood the similarities between black and gay people, both coming from marginalized communities.

When same-sex marriage became legal in New Jersey in 2013, he officiated several marriages after midnight. Before this, he refused to officiate any weddings as a way of ‘protesting the painful reality that I could not marry all citizens equally’.

As a senator, he’s supported legislation like the Employment Non-Discrimination and Equality Acts. He has also been tough on various Trump nominees regarding LGBTI topics.

Recently, he celebrated Pride in Iowa and remembered Pulse.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro

Julián Castro
Julián Castro | Photo: Wikimedia
  • Most recent HRC Score: N/A
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: N/A

Castro, whose twin brother is a Congressman, supports LGBTI rights. A decade ago, he was the Grand Marshal in San Antonio’s Pride parade. In 2011, while he was mayor of the city, he supported an effort to extend domestic partner benefits to couples.

Another action he took as mayor was signing the 2012 petition, Mayors for the Freedom to Marry.

When Trump first announced his transgender military ban, he tweeted his support to trans service members.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI)

Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii
Tulsi Gabbard, speaking at the National Guard Association of the United States conference | Photo: Wikimedia/Staff Sgt. Ryan Sheldon
  • Most recent HRC Score: 100
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: N/A

Despite a perfect score from HRC, Gabbard’s start to her presidential campaign was rocky due to criticism of past homophobic comments. These included calling the LGBTI community and activists ‘homosexual extremists’. She also worked with her father’s anti-LGBTI organization The Alliance for Traditional Marriage, which endorsed conversion therapy.

She spent a majority of the start of her campaign apologizing for these comments and actions.

At the start of her political career, she continued to express anti-LGBTI stances. In 2004, she opposed a bill allowing civil unions for same-sex couples in Hawaii.

More recently, she indicated she supports same-sex marriage and also co-sponsored the Equality Act.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

Jay Inslee
Inslee announcing his candidacy | Photo: Wikimedia
  • Most recent HRC Score: 100
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: ‘End harassment of, discrimination against, and denial of LGBTQ immigrants.’

Inslee comes from a state largely considered one of the most liberal in the country. Washington is also known for its progressive stances on LGBTI rights.

Inslee has maintained these progressive stances throughout his political career. When first running as a gubernatorial candidate in Washington in 2011, he publicly supported same-sex marriage. This was four years before the US achieved marriage equality nationwide.

Two years later, in 2013 when he was elected governor, he said marriage equality ‘represents the best of who we are as a state’.

Most recently in 2018, Inslee signed legislation as governor protecting LGBTI youth in the state from conversion therapy.

His campaign is focused on two main issues: climate change and immigration. His immigration plan includes policies specifically for LGBTI immigrants. He also recently remembered the Pulse shooting.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN)

Amy Klobuchar
Amy Klobuchar | Photo: Wikimedia/US Senate
  • Most recent HRC Score: 100
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: N/A

Klobuchar is a midwestern politician who supports LGBTI rights, though is not as liberally progressive as other announced candidates.

She has supported numerous pieces of pro-LGBTI legislation, including both employment and student non-discrimination acts. She supported the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and supports same-sex marriage, first as a states issue and then nationally.

Regarding LGBTI discrimination in places of public accommodation, she called it ‘bad for business’ and said it hurts the economy.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio

Bill de Blasio
Bill de Blasio | Photo: Wikimedia
  • Most recent HRC Score: N/A
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: N/A

De Blasio’s entire political career, starting in 2002, has remained in New York City. He started as a city council member and has been Mayor of New York City since 2014.

While on the city council for the 39th district, De Blasio passed several pro-LGBTI laws. He passed the Gender-Based Discrimination Protection Law, protecting trans people, and the Domestic Partnership Recognition Law, giving same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples.

He also published an LGBTI healthcare bill of rights and signed bills allowing transgender and nonbinary people new identification cards and birth certificates.

Some LGBTI New Yorkers, however, have criticized him for not doing enough about police harassment and discrimination.

He celebrated Pride in South Carolina this year.

Former Rep. John Delaney (MD)

John Delaney
John Delaney | Photo: Wikimedia
  • Most recent HRC Score: 100
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: ‘We have made tremendous progress in recent years, but the fight for full civil rights for all LGBTQ Americans isn’t over,’ on a page dedicated to LGBTI issues.

Throughout his political career, Delaney has voted on numerous measures for LGBTI rights.

In 2012, he indicated on a survey that he supports same-sex marriage. One year later, his first year as a member of the House of Representatives, he co-sponsored the Student Non-Discrimination Act. This act prohibits discrimination and the exclusions of students from school activities based on their perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Since 2017, he has also served as a member of the LGBT Equality Caucus.

When he received a 100 score from the Human Rights Campaign, he responded: ‘I am honored to receive a perfect 100… No one should be discriminated against because of who they are or who they love.’

During his campaign, he’s spoken about making schools safer for LGBTI students.

Rep. Tim Ryan (OH)

Ohio politician Tim Ryan
Ohio politician Tim Ryan | Photo: Wikimedia
  • Most recent HRC Score: 100
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: N/A

‘Our country has been divided for a long time,’ Ryan said on The View when he announced his candidacy. ‘The first thing we have to do is unify.’

While his announcement to run has focused on blue-collar workers, his record shows an increasingly progressive stance on LGBTI rights. Previously, HRC gave him a 63%, indicating a mixed record on LGBTI rights.

Since then, however, he has changed his position, now earning a full 100%.

In Congress he’s signed numerous pro-LGBTI bills, including the Student and Employment Non-Discrimination Acts. He also voted no on constitutionally defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

He also previously expressed a pro-life stance on abortion, but has since stated it is a woman’s choice.

Second debate night’s Democrats

Former Vice President Joe Biden

Joe Biden
The former VP Joe Biden | Photo: Wikimedia/White House
  • Most recent HRC Score: 95
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: N/A

Joe Biden is one of the most seasoned and widely known Democrats running for President, after he announced his candidacy. He previously occupied two other prominent political positions for over four decades — United States Senator and Vice President to Barack Obama.

Compared to some of his younger and more left-leaning contenders, however, Biden has a spottier record on LGBTI rights.

In 1996, he voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which federally defined marriage as between a man and a woman. He also voted in favor of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as a Senator.

Like many other older Democratic politicians, evolutions marks his career.

Ten years after his DOMA vote, he voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, which sought to constitutionally define marriage as between a man and a woman. He also later supported the courts repealing DADT.

In 2012, he said he’s ‘absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties’.

Biden’s bid for president has already come under scrutiny due to women coming forward and saying he’s made them uncomfortable or inappropriately touched them (lingering hugs, cheek kisses, etc). He is also dogged by his mishandling of the Anita Hill interviews during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

During his campaign, he said LGBTI rights would be his ‘top priority’ as President and also spent time at the Stonewall Inn.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders | Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr
  • Most recent HRC Score: 100
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: ‘The United States has made remarkable progress on gay rights in a relatively short amount of time. But there is still much work to be done,’ reads a page on LGBTI issues.

Sanders has touted his long-standing support of LGBTI rights.

In 1983, as mayor of Burlington, he approved a resolution declaring ‘Gay Rights Day’ (though LGBTI people of his native Vermont hesitated at calling him a ‘leader’ on LGBTI rights).

A decade later, he opposed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

He supports pro-LGBTI legislation like employment and student non-discrimination acts. He has also consistently voted against discriminatory legislation, such as constitutionally defining marriage as between a man and woman.

In 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality, Sanders said: ‘My view is that people have a right to love each other, regardless of one’s sexual orientation. […] I think, if people are in love, they should be able to get married in this country in 50 states in America. And I strongly support what the Supreme Court recently said.’

During his 2016 presidential run, he called out an anti-trans Trump supporter and told a conservative university he supports gay rights.

He is also a current cosponsor of the Equality Act.

During Pride month, he made a post stating: ‘Trump is a homophobe who is fomenting hate against the LGBTQ community.’ Along with several other candidates, he also supports ending the ban on gay men donating blood.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg
Pete Buttigieg | Photo: Wikimedia Commons/City of South Bend, Indiana
  • Most recent HRC Score: N/A
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: ‘Freedom means living free of discrimination because of who you are and whom you love,’ on a section detailing LGBTI policies.

Buttigieg is, so far, the only openly LGBTI Democratic candidate running for President. Beyond being the Mayor of South Bend, he is also a Rhodes Scholar and veteran of the War in Afghanistan, for which he took time out of his job as mayor to serve.

His primary work as mayor has focused on redevelopment and at 37, he is the youngest presidential candidate in the race.

He does not have the extensive political career as other candidates, and therefore no lengthy track record on LGBTI issues. There are many liberal policies he supports, such as universal healthcare, background checks for firearms, and abolishing capital punishment. He is also in favor of the Equality Act and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

In April 2019, however, he said he would not extend the right to vote to people who are incarcerated. LGBTI users on Twitter took issue with this, as LGBTI people and people of color make up a large portion of the prison population.

Buttigieg will also be the first ever openly gay candidate in a presidential debate.

Sen. Kamala Harris (CA)

Kamala Harris at Pride
Kamala Harris | Photo: InSapphoWeTrust/Flickr
  • Most recent HRC Score: 100
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: ‘We must speak truth: Homophobia and transphobia are real in this country, and they’re being fueled by an Administration that openly attacks Americans based on who they are or who they love,’ on a page about LGBTI issues.

Harris has a lengthy, but checkered, support of LGBTI rights in her home state of California.

She opposed the state’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage, and when marriage equality was achieved in California, she officiated the first same-sex wedding. As a senator, she co-sponsored the Equality Act.

During her time as an attorney general, she co-sponsored a bill calling for the elimination of the so-called ‘gay panic’ defense.

At the start of her campaign, she apologized and took ‘full responsibility’ for legal briefs denying transgender inmates gender confirmation surgery when she was attorney general.

When pressed on this matter, Harris told the Washington Blade: ‘I believe that we are at a point where we have got to stop vilifying people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and we’ve got to understand that when we are talking about a particular transgender community, for too long they have been the subject of bias, and frankly, a lack of understanding about their circumstance and their physical needs in addition to any other needs they have, and it’s about time that we have a better understanding of that.’

During her campaign, she declined attending a summit hosted by anti-LGBTI Christian group and celebrated Pride.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)

Kirsten Gillibrand
Kirsten Gillibrand | Photo: Wikimedia
  • Most recent HRC Score: 100
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: ‘She has consistently spoken out against the rising rate of hate crimes against LGBTQ people—especially trans women of color—and the bigotry that has emboldened it,’ on a page about her values.

Gillibrand has supported LGBTI rights for over a decade of her political career.

In 2007, she supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, making it illegal for a place of employment to discriminate on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Two years later, she wrote an op-ed for The Hill supporting the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). In it, she wrote: ‘My hope is that as people meet some of the brave servicemen and women that have been affected by this unfair and misguided policy, we can build support for repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and move toward allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly and honestly in our military.’

She expressed support for same-sex marriage before it was legalized at the state level in New York, and also opposes Trump’s transgender military ban.

On the campaign trailer, she celebrated Pride in Iowa, spent time with drag queens, and also declined an offer from an anti-LGBTI Christian group.

Sen. Michael Bennet (CO)

Sen. Michael Bennet
Sen. Michael Bennet | Photo: Wikimedia
  • Most recent HRC Score: 91
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: N/A

Bennet has been a senator from Colorado for a decade.

During his time in office, he was an original co-sponsor of the Equality Act and also drafted legislation aimed at helping older Americans’ sexual health, including LGBTI seniors.

In 2010, he expressed support for ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and said opposition to homosexuality stemmed from an ‘outdated views of our society’.

Bennet signed the Employment and Student Non-Discrimination Acts and has said he would reverse the transgender military ban if elected.

He celebrated Pride in Denver on the campaign trail.

Author Marianne Williamson

Author Marianne Williamson
Author Marianne Williamson | Photo: Wikimedia
  • Most recent HRC Score: N/A
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: ‘The ability to pursue a livelihood free from discrimination is a right denied, every day, to members of the LGBTQ communities … This is not only unacceptable; this is in direct violation of our founding principles,’ on a page about LGBTI issues.

Williamson is the first of two candidates who qualified for the debates without ever holding political office. She ran unsuccessfully as an Independent for California’s 33rd district and is primarily an author and activist.

She supports the Equality Act and is also pro-choice. During her campaign, she’s come out against tax policies that are unfair to same-sex couples.

Williamson is the founder of Project Angel Food, a nonprofit volunteer food delivery service. The program primarily benefits people living with AIDS and other illnesses.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA)

Eric Swalwell
Eric Swalwell is a Dem candidate for president | Photo: Wikimedia
  • Most recent HRC Score: 100
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: ‘We must ensure that all LGBTQ+ Americans can receive a high quality education, work toward their dream job, access affordable healthcare, start a family, and serve in the military without discrimination,’ on a general page of issues.

With a relatively short political career compared to other Democrats running, Eric Swalwell is trying to carve out a distinctive place for himself in a crowded race. He’s doing that by highlighting one specific issue above the rest: gun control.

This is an issue that appeals especially to younger and more liberal voters (such as LGBTI people, especially in the wake of the Pulse massacre).

On his government website, Swalwell has an extensive page about LGBTI rights and equality.

‘Everyone should be treated equally under the law. Love is love and I’m thrilled the Supreme Court agrees,’ the page begins.

It also highlights various pro-LGBTI legislation he supports, including the Equality Act, Student Non-Discrimination Act, and Refund Equality Act (allows same-sex couples to file amended tax returns).

During his campaign, he celebrated Pride with Equality California.

Businessman Andrew Yang

Tech businessman Andrew Yang
Tech businessman Andrew Yang | Photo: Wikimedia
  • Most recent HRC Score: N/A
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: ‘Sexual orientation and gender identity should be protected classes under the law, receiving all the federal protections afforded under the Constitution and law,’ on a page about LGBTI issues.

Yang is the second candidate who qualified for the debates without ever holding political office. He is an entrepeneur and philanthrophist. The Obama administration named him a Champion of Change in 2012.

While he has no experience with LGBTI legislation, he has acknowledged the LGBTI community during his campaign.

On his website, Yang promises various things if elected, including funding LGBTI programs, appointing LGBTI people to senior positions within his administration, and promoting pro-LGBTI legislation.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper

John Hickenlooper
John Hickenlooper | Photo: Wikimedia
  • Most recent HRC Score: N/A
  • What their campaign website says about LGBTI rights: ‘All of the incredible progress on equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community that we have made in the last decade is under assault from the Trump Administration,’ on a section about LGBTI issues.

Throughout his political career in Colorado, Hickenlooper publicly supported civil unions and same-sex marriage, years before the Supreme Court legalized it at a national level.

In 2012, Republicans in the state opposed legislation to legalize civil unions. Hickenlooper called a special session to challenge their opposition and a few months later, signed the civil unions legislation into law.

He celebrated Pride in Iowa with rainbow cupcakes.

There will be several more debates throughout the election. On National Coming Out Day (10 October), the Human Rights Campaign will host an LGBTI-specific debate, the first of its kind in over a decade.