Democratic presidential hopefuls appeared at presidential forum on LGBTQ issues that took place in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday night. Candidates including Kamala Harris, Corey Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg were lauded for their comfortability and familiarity with the issues—Warren, notably, read a list of 18 transgender women of color who have been murdered this year. In contrast, former vice president Joe Biden testily responded to a question on his LGBTQ record from moderator Lyz Lenz, a Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist and former The Rumpus editor, and called her “sweetheart” as the two left the stage.
Lenz questioned Biden about his votes for both Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, noting that while he voted to repeal both, he has also recently praised Vice President Mike Pence, who is notorious for his anti-gay views, as “a decent guy.”
This elicited boos from the audience, and Biden responded to Lenz, “You’re a lovely person.”
To which Lenz quickly replied, “Just asking the questions that people want to know.”
“You’re a lovely person,” Biden tells the moderator to laugher.
“Just asking the questions people want to know,” she replied pic.twitter.com/DB10NGuBCP
— Molly Nagle (@MollyNagle3) September 21, 2019
Speaking about his record on LGBTQ issues, Biden said defensively, “I didn’t have to evolve,” evoking Obama’s description of changing his views on gay marriage. Biden also defended his characterization of Pence as “decent,” saying that’s the way politicians speak “when you try to get things.”
“I think it’s just an issue because he has not been decent to a whole swath of Americans,” Lenz responded, prompting applause from the audience.
Biden also spoke about his plan for LGBTQ rights. If elected, he promised to pass the Equality Act, which would guarantee protections in labor and civil rights laws, re-implement Obama-era initiatives reversed by Trump, and ban conversion therapy on a national level.
But then, as he left the stage, Biden said to Lenz, “You’re a real sweetheart.”
— Lyz a real sweetheart (@lyzl) September 21, 2019
Event attendees who spoke with Reuters were less than impressed with Biden’s performance. “I think that he thinks he doesn’t need to [evolve], but he does, he can’t just ride (his political history) without having to get with the times,” Emmett Cory, a student at the University of Northern Iowa, said.
Lenz is right. And if Biden wants to beat Trump “like a drum” as he recently said, he needs to learn how to speak to women while both respecting their personal space and their professionalism. Women make up a majority of the Democratic electorate, and winning their votes begins with showing them respect.