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No, the Democrats Didn’t Ignore Queer Issues at the CNN Debates

Kirsten Gillibrand says "gay" for first time at CNN Democratic presidential debates.

It took two days, but someone finally said the word “gay!”

At the second night of the CNN Democratic debates — which pitted 10 presidential candidates against one another in the hopes that one of them might possibly make one single, solid point during one of their miserably limited moments at the mic — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York mentioned that her mother, an attorney, “worked with gay couples for basic rights.” She also talked about her congressional involvement in past efforts to secure LGBTQ+ rights.

“As a freshman senator, I was told you couldn't repeal ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Even members of my own party told me it wasn't convenient,” Gillibrand said. “When are civil rights ever convenient? We stood up to the Pentagon and got it done — not impossible.”

The moment marked a rare break in the CNN debates, which aired on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Almost none of the 20 candidates, split evenly between the two nights, explicitly mentioned LGBTQ+ people or the specific issues that target them on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called Pres. Donald Trump a “homophobe” during Tuesday night’s debates; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, referred to his husband, Chasten, during one of his responses; Gillibrand mentioned the gay people her mother worked with and “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military policy that banned openly gay people from service; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee mentioned LGBTQ+ people about an hour and a half later; and that was it.

Yet, it would be inaccurate to say that the Democratic candidates haven’t been talking about queer people, even though they haven’t literally been talking about queer people. On both nights of the CNN debates, the 2020 hopefuls discussed expanding health care access and whether a plan like “Medicare for All” would be the best way to do that. They debated border policy and immigration reform and whether illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border should be decriminalized. Gun access came up on Tuesday; police brutality and mass incarceration came up Wednesday. Health care, immigration, systemic violence — these are all issues that affect LGBTQ+ people. They might not be talking about you, specifically, but they’re talking about our issues.

RELATED | Elizabeth Warren Shuts Down ‘Republican Talking Points’ at Debate

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