At last week’s Democratic town hall in Iowa, Duke University student Brian Carlson asked then candidate Martin O’Malley, “What will you do to assure full federal LGBT equality?”
This was noteworthy because in the three Democratic debates that have been held so far, not one moderator has asked a single question about LGBT rights.
Millennials — whom candidates are trying so desperately to woo — are disenchanted with politics. Only 26 percent say they care about politics as a top-three topic to discuss, according to the Pew Research Center. Despite millennials having Democratic leanings, candidates can’t rely on them to show up to the voting booth.
What do millennials care about? Among many other things, they care about LGBT rights. Before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality last year, another Pew study showed some three-quarters of millennials were in favor of same-sex marriage (including 61 percent of young Republicans).
So why haven’t the networks found it pertinent to discuss LGBT issues at the debates? Many people seem to think the fight for LGBT rights ended last June, with marriage equality – that there’s little for the candidates to discuss now that same-sex couples are legally able to marry. And even if there are legal battles left to fight, the thinking goes, the Democratic candidates would all go to bat for them – right?
The reality is that marriage equality didn’t put an end to LGBT discrimination; we have much further to go.
The next wave of legislation against LGBT individuals has already been drafted and, in some places, passed. Last November marked a tremendous loss for the community with the repeal of HERO, a human rights ordinance that protected 16 different classes, in Houston.
And just in the past few weeks, the Indiana Senate advanced a broad Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) — an increasingly popular type of legislation that has in recent years been used to discriminate against LGBT individuals in the name of defendants’ “sincerely held” religious beliefs. LGBT advocates are calling Indiana’s bill a “super RFRA”; it goes even further than the legislation that caused the state to lose an estimated $60 million last spring.
Candidates, what would you do to ensure state legislatures can’t roll back our rights?
Among the other questions I’d like answered: How would you work to end anti-LGBT bullying? Would you support a national ban on reparative therapy for minors? Are you supportive of trans-inclusive health care? What legislation would your administration introduce, or support, to protect LGBT people from housing and work discrimination?
We know the Democratic candidates are generally in favor of advancing LGBT rights. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have LGBT policy proposals on their website. Clinton, whose platform is probably the most robust, recently snagged an endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT group in the country. However, her voting record isn’t quite as LGBT-friendly as Sanders’; Clinton scored an 89 percent rating from the HRC in its report card on how politicians have voted on federal legislation affecting LGBT people. Sanders has been more vocal about LGBT rights in general, and scored a 100 percent rating from the HRC, even though he didn’t fully support marriage equality until 2009.
(For his part, Martin O’Malley, who suspended his campaign following the Iowa Caucus, was the first Democratic candidate to endorse the Equality Act, which would have amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and as governor signed marriage equality into law in Maryland as well as the Fairness for All Marylanders Act that extended protections on housing, employment, and public accommodations to LGBT Marylanders and visitors.)
In this week’s town hall, Clinton did say she intends to push for full LGBT equality — the mention was embedded in her answer to an unrelated question. But we need so much more than this. We need the moderators to ask substantive LGBT policy questions, and we need the candidates’ thorough answers. This will remind viewers the LGBT fight is far from over. It’ll allow the voters to see how well-versed (or not) the candidates are with LGBT issues, and who’s just delivering soundbites to get elected. Most important, it will allow LGBT advocates and voters to hold the candidates accountable after election season.
In scrutinizing the presidential candidates, a pro-LGBT stance, or voting record, isn’t enough. Many of the legal hurdles the LGBT community is currently facing have never been taken on before. We need an administration dedicated to the fight.