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Why Anderson Cooper Must Make LGBT Issues a Central Focus of the Presidential Debate


The CNN anchor will be the first openly gay moderator of a presidential debate.

Anderson Cooper will become the first openly gay man to moderate a presidential debate when the CNN anchor emcees the second contest, held in St. Louis this Sunday evening. Cooper, who came out publicly in 2012 following years of speculation, previously hosted last October's CNN/Facebook Democratic Debate, in which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders faced off for the first time.

His presence will play a pivotal role in this week's debate, the latest matchup between Clinton and her Republican challenger, Donald Trump. LGBT issues were completely absent from their previous matchup. In a tense, brutal debate hosted by Lester Holt, the focus remained on Trump's personal history, including his sexist attacks on women and unreleased tax returns. Following the Sept. 26 event, the New York Times revealed that losses of nearly $1 billion dollars in 1995 have allowed him to get out of paying taxes for over two decades, thanks to a loophole in the law.

The lack of time given to the crucial concerns of LGBT people in this pivotal, historically ugly election were further illustrated in Tuesday's vice presidential debate between Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Pence, who passed a law in 2015 making it legal for businesses to deny services to customers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, wasn't asked a single question by moderator Elaine Quijano about his virulently anti-LGBT history. Kaine, who invited a lesbian couple to the debate as his guests, also failed to press the issue. LGBT issues were mentioned just once, and not in respect to Pence's record. While debating whether Russian president is an ally to the United States, Kaine remarked, "He persecutes LGBT folks and journalists."

In a recent interview with ABC's This Week, George Stephanopoulos asked Pence eight times whether he believes LGBT people should legally be able to be fired from their jobs because of their identities. Each time, Pence refused to answer. His receipts, however, speak for him. While Pence was the editor of Indiana Policy Review, a right wing think tank, the group published articles in its monthly journal urging businesses not to hire LGBT workers. "They are known to carry extremely high rates of disease brought on because of the nature of their sexual practices and the promiscuity which is a hallmark of their lifestyle," wrote R.D. Ray in 1993.

As a legislator, Pence has continued his track record of discrimination. While running for the House of Representative in 2000, the policy platform on his website advocated the diversion of funds from the Ryan White Care Act, which provides life-saving HIV medications, to "those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior." That's a reference to the widely discredited practice of conversion therapy, which can lead to years of psychological harm and trauma and is outlawed in five states. Pence, who has received a rating of zero from the Human Rights Campaign, has voted against employment nondiscrimination protections as a member of Congress. The former House representative also advocated for a constitutional amendment blocking same-sex couples from getting married.

If Trump were elected in November, Pence will be one heartbeat away from the Oval Office. His track record, though, further scores how devastating a Trump presidency would be for LGBT people. Trump has promised that on his first day in office, he would repeal every executive order enacted under President Obama's tenure. That would include a directive barring federal contractors from being fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The CEO has further vowed to appoint justices that will overturn the Supreme Court's 2015 decision to legalize marriage equality in all 50 states.

Many LGBT people are justifiably terrified of a Trump presidency under which they stand to lose their jobs, their marriages, and their families; that fear deserves to be confronted on a national stage, not ignored. Cooper, as one of a handful of openly gay newscasters working in primetime, is well-positioned to speak truth to power. Following the Pulse shooting in June, he took Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to task over her newfound support of the LGBT community. Before rebranding herself as an ally, Bondi claimed in 2014 court filings that same-sex couples fighting for the right to marry in Florida were seeking "induce public harm" to the state. "Do you really think you're a champion of the gay community?" Cooper asked.

Americans live in a time when our most vulnerable communities are under attack. This election has witnessed millions of undocumented workers referred to as "rapists" and threatened with deportation. Trump has further discussed placing Muslim citizens in a national registry that harkens back to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. If we hope to prevent modern fascism and mass discrimination, all of us must promote a culture of greater accountability. Silence is what created this mess to begin with.

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