It’s Tuesday morning and Julián Castro doesn’t have much time to talk.
While the business of running for president is itself a nonstop marathon of campaign stops, primary debates, and talk show appearances, the former Housing and Urban Development Secretary is time-limited for a different reason: His mother, Rosie, will receive an award later the same evening from the YWCA. The national women’s organization is recognizing her longtime civil rights activism by giving her its 10th Woman of Influence Award.
Castro says it’s his mother’s example that inspired his own LGBTQ+ rights allyship. As the mayor of San Antonio, he became its first chief executive to march in a Pride parade in 2009 and led a push two years later to extend benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of city employees.
Since announcing his intention to run for president, Castro has also been one of the only candidates to raise the issue of LGBTQ+ rights during the three rounds of Democratic primary debates held thus far. He also appeared alongside candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg at a Friday LGBTQ+ Presidential Forum hosted by The Advocate, GLAAD, and One Iowa. During the debate, he pledged to appoint LGBTQ+ Cabinet members, repeal Trump-era policies furthering “religious freedom,” and create a task force to assist in investigating trans homicides across the United States.
In a 15-minute conversion with Out, Castro expanded on his vision for LGBTQ+ rights, condemned the rollbacks of equality under the current administration, and discussed recent comments by current HUD Secretary Ben Carson referring to transgender women as “big, hairy men.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Out: Many of the presidential candidates at Friday's LGBTQ+ forum spoke about the crisis of violence against trans women of color in the United States. But aside from calling out the problem, what would you do as president to address — or end — the epidemic?
Julián Castro: I would do several things. Number one, it starts with leadership and highlighting the fact that trans women and members of the trans community are more likely to be targeted and preyed upon. We've already seen this year, I believe, 18 deaths. So that's the first thing: As a leader, I believe you have a responsibility to focus on what's happening. Then secondly, I said the other day at the LGBTQ+ forum that I would work with state and local communities to prioritize investigations related to the death of transgender individuals and instruct the Department of Justice to establish a task force to do so.
When I was at HUD as Secretary of Housing, one of the things that we did was a rule that said, "If you're transgender and you seek housing at a federally funded shelter, you have to be accommodated according to how you identify." And so that's one example of how we can ensure that transgender individuals are safer, more comfortable, and included. We can do that across the board when it comes to other types of services. What I would like to do is make sure that police departments and police officers across the country have the kind of training that they need so that they don't let bias get in the way of how seriously they investigate cases or how seriously they take complaints in the first place so that you have the right kind of approach and attitude among frontline employees to help out transgender individuals.
What has it been like to see so many of the pro-LGBTQ+ policies that you enacted during the Obama administration repealed by the current White House?
It's disturbing because Secretary Carson's comments make clear that he has a shameful perception or belief about the transgender community. If you want to be in that position that he's in, you should serve everybody. His comments made clear that he's not serving everybody.
What this administration is doing is tearing down the progress that we've made in so many ways, including for transgender individuals. That's disappointing, but we're a couple of years into the administration now, and so it's not surprising. I wish I could say it were surprising, but it's not. It's also motivating because the first thing that we need to do on January 20, 2021, when the new administration comes into office, is roll back what this administration has done to tear down those protections, to go back to what we did in the Obama administration to protect everybody regardless of their identity and then take it to the next level.
Do you think that Carson should be fired from his job for the remarks?
I believe he should. I believe he shouldn't be there because he can't represent or work on behalf of everybody with that kind of attitude, but this isn't the first time that I've thought that he should not be in that position.
What was the first time?
Well, it could've been the $31,000 dining set or the attitude toward poor people — that seems to be that if you're poor, there's something wrong with you. I vehemently disagree with where his approach on those issues.
During your time in HUD, working on issues of homelessness, specifically LGBTQ+ homelessness, was a feature of your tenure. Why is this issue so important to you?
The rate of homelessness among members of the LGBTQ+ community — and particularly transgender individuals — it's so much higher than the rate for straight Americans. It's a crisis in a lot of communities, and we're still not doing enough to address it. We need to be investing resources, changing policies, and orienting all of our institutions toward addressing the fact that those numbers are completely out of line. The numbers represent real human beings, people that need our help.
When I was Secretary of Housing, my eyes were opened to the fact, for instance, that a lot of our young people who were sleeping on the streets and who were homeless — up to 40 percent are members of the LGBTQ+ community. It made me feel compelled to do something about that. I still feel that sense of urgency. There's an unfairness there and a sadness in all of that that I believe we can make better.
The majority of presidential candidates in 2020 have yet to address LGBTQ+ rights — whether that's the rights of transgender folks or other members of the community — during the three rounds of debates. Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang, meanwhile, were criticized for skipping Friday's LGBTQ+ forum. Why is it so important for candidates to speak out on LGBTQ+ issues in the 2020 race?
It's important because we want to build a country where everyone counts. I can't think of a president in the last I-don't-know-how-many generations who has been more exclusive and more narrow-minded than Donald Trump, who has tried to turn back the hands of time on equality. That means for those of us who are running and who want to be president in the next term, we have to go out of our way to paint a picture of an America where everyone counts and to stand up for that. That's what I've been doing. The whole campaign is about standing up for the idea that everyone will count in this country and about not being afraid to bring up issues that often are not brought up on the debate stage, to use that time wisely, and to lift people up — I'll continue to do it.
You've been advocating for LGBTQ+ rights back to your days in the San Antonio City Council and later the mayor's office. As a straight ally fighting for equality, how are LGBTQ+ rights a personal issue for you?
I grew up with a mom who was a Chicana activist — she's still with me. I realize I'm saying that in the past tense, but when my mother was young, she was a Mexican-American civil rights activist and Chicana activist. I grew up with this sense that we should strive toward equality for everybody, no matter who they are. That is what we should do in public service. I feel that in my heart, and I want to bring about that kind of America. I see that as one of the reasons that I'm seeking office in the first place. It feels personal to me because in my life in a different way, I know what it's like to be on the other end of not having equality. I want everybody to have that.