At last night’s Democratic debate, the candidates raised a wide range of issues from jobs to health care to climate change. But despite the presence of an out gay candidate on stage, there was barely more than a passing acknowledgement of LGBTQ+ issues.
The decision to ignore LGBTQ+ issues has been an ongoing problem throughout the Democratic debates. But last night was even more stark, given that it was the Transgender Day of Remembrance, an occasion held every year on November 20 to remember and address the violence faced by trans Americans.
The only acknowledgement of the night that queer people exist came from California Senator Kamala Harris, who said toward the end of the debate, “We've got to re-create the Obama coalition to win. And that means about women, that's people of color, that's our [LGBTQ+] community, that's working people, that's our labor unions.”
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg also made an oblique reference to marriage equality, as well as his own marriage to husband Chasten.
“Wearing this wedding ring in a way that couldn't have happened two elections ago lets me know just how deep my obligation is to help those whose rights are on the line every day,” he said, “even if they are nothing like me in their experience.”
The Human Rights Campaign marked Transgender Day of Rememberance by releasing a new report that examines the crisis of violence against trans people and makes specific policy recommendations like improving police training and access to housing. It also notes that 151 transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people have been killed in the United States since 2013.
That none of the candidates talked specifically about the queer community drew condemnation from Sarah Kate Ellis, President and CEO of GLAAD.
“Another Democratic debate has come and gone, and there were still zero direct questions about [LGBTQ+] issues,” she wrote in a statement. “It is a slap in the face to LGBTQ Americans that not one of the candidates nor the media could join in mourning the at least twenty-two transgender women of color killed this year in anti-transgender violence. Trans issues, specifically violence against transgender women of color, is an issue at the heart of the LGBTQ community — and it’s time for a leader who will work to stop the violence that trans people face.”
Over the previous four Democratic debates, moderators have asked over 600 questions, but only one that pertains to LGBTQ+ issues, according to Media Matters. That happened during the first debate, when Chuck Todd asked why voters should trust Tulsi Gabbard given her past opposition to queer and trans equality. Anderson Cooper also offered a softball question about Ellen DeGeneres at the end of the fourth debate.
Some of the candidates have mentioned LGBTQ+ issues without being prompted. At one debate, Cory Booker mentioned violence against trans people, and Julián Castro brought up the importance of trans health care access.
Some of the candidates also attended an LGBTQ+ candidates’ forum, as well as a town hall on CNN earlier this fall. Those events were watched by far fewer viewers than the main debates.