(Reuters) – Nine US Democratic presidential candidates [appeared] at a televised town hall on Thursday focused on LGBT rights, though top contender, Bernie Sanders, [missed] the event as he recovers from a heart attack.
The Los Angeles event is the second major presidential forum dedicated to LGBTQ issues during the Democratic nominating campaign, following an event in Iowa last month, that drew 10 of the 19 candidates vying to take on US President Donald Trump.
Gay advocates have expressed dismay at the Trump administration’s record on LGBTQ issues, including a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the US military.
This week, lawyers for the Department of Justice argued at the US Supreme Court that federal civil rights law does not prohibit employers from firing workers, based on their transgender identity or sexual orientation.
The forum includes South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay US president; former Vice President Joe Biden; US senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar; former US Representative Beto O’Rourke; former US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro; and businessman Tom Steyer.
Ahead of the forum, Warren, Buttigieg, and Harris released plans to secure equality for LGBTQ people.
Like most other Democrats, all three candidates support the Equality Act, which would explicitly add LGBTQ protections to federal anti-discrimination law.
They also vowed to make pre-exposure prophylaxis, a drug that helps lower the risk of contracting human immunodeficiency virus, accessible and affordable to all who want it.
Buttigieg said he would eliminate the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030, in part by restoring the White House Office of National AIDS Policy that has gone dormant under Trump.
All three candidates promised to elevate LGBTQ concerns as president. Warren said she would appoint a special envoy at the State Department, while Harris said she would create a new White House position, Chief Advocate for LGBTQ+ Affairs, to coordinate efforts across the entire federal government.
“Twenty years ago, an awkward teenager at St. Joe High School in South Bend, Indiana, who didn’t know a single out LGBTQ+ student there, never would have imagined how far we would come as a country,” wrote Buttigieg, who has spoken frankly in public about his struggle to come out.
“But what does our country look like to a teenager in 2019, just starting to realize who they are?”
Thursday’s forum represents a fresh opportunity on the issue for Biden, who has seen his lead in polls wiped out by Warren’s recent surge.
Biden found himself defending his LGBTQ record at last month’s event in Iowa, including his 1993 vote for the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that barred openly gay individuals from the military.
He later backed repeal of that policy, and while he voted for a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, he backed same-sex marriage before President Barack Obama, under whom he served as vice president.