The Human Rights Campaign confirmed in a Tuesday tweet that Bernie Sanders will be attending this month's LGBTQ+ Town Hall, which will be co-presented with CNN. The national LGBTQ+ nonprofit claimed it is “proud” to have the Vermont Senator present to “discuss the pressing issues facing [LGBTQ+] people in the U.S. and around the world.”
Sanders has yet to tweet about his decision to attend the event, which he previously claimed he was unable attend due to a scheduling conflict. Out has reached out to his press team and will update this story should they respond.
Andrew Yang remains the only top-tier candidate to sit out the event, which is only open to those who poll at or above two percent in at least four prominent polls. Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Beto O'Rourke, Julian Castro, Tom Steyer, and Amy Klobuchar have already confirmed attendance.
The LGBTQ+ Town Hall will air on October 10, in cojunction with National Coming Out Day.
When presidential candidates take to the stage to discuss the future of LGBTQ+ equality on Friday night, two of the biggest names in the race won’t be joining them.
Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang, both of whom poll among the top 10 in national surveys, have yet to RSVP to the LGBTQ+ Presidential Forum at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The event, which is being presented by GLAAD, The Advocate, and One Iowa, is among the first in history in which White House hopefuls will specifically debate LGBTQ+ issues. It’s also the only presidential forum to ever be moderated by a transgender woman, Pose and American Horror Story star Angelica Ross.
While top-tier candidates like Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker will join Ross on stage Friday night, Sanders and Yang’s names have been curiously absent from the list for weeks. Out first noted their truancy on Sept. 9., and since then, they have not clarified publicly why they have decided not to join.
At the time of writing, both candidates will also be skipping a second event LGBTQ+ Town Hall event hosted by CNN in October.
Given that Sanders and Yang have marketed themselves as allies to the LGBTQ+ community, the glaring omissions started to garner some notice in the hours before the GLAAD event. While CNN’s town hall is only open to those who poll at or above two percent in at least four prominent national polls, the GLAAD forum is available to literally any candidate running for president — meaning that even relative longshots like Marianne Williamson and Joe Sestak are participating.
Comedian Billy Eichner tweeted on Thursday that Sanders’ absence is “unfortunate” given that his support for LGBTQ+ rights dates back decades. During his time as mayor of Burlington, Vt., he was the city’s first chief executive sign a proclamation honoring an LGBTQ+ event in 1983. Sanders also credits himself with voting against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, joining just 13 other Senators opposing the bill.
“I like Bernie but I hope he reconsiders this,” Eichner said, calling it a “very odd decision considering there has been little to no discussion of [LGBTQ+] issues during the debates.”
When Out contacted Sanders’ team to inquire as to why he will not be participating in the event, a representative for his campaign claimed he “cannot attend due to scheduling conflicts but look forward to future campaign events that highlight LGBTQ+ issues and Sen. Sanders commitment to fighting for expanded protections and ending discrimination in all forms.”
In his tweets, Eichner himself pointed out “scheduling conflicts” isn’t a reasonable excuse for a presidential candidate. He added, “Campaign stops are rescheduled all the time in order to make room for one night only nationally televised forums like debates, town halls, etc.”
Just this week, Sanders rescheduled three events in South Carolina because of a hoarse throat that plagued him during the third round of debates.
When Out asked whether Sanders had any LGBTQ+ focused events on his schedule in the future, his campaign did not take the opportunity to highlight such plans.
While Sanders’ followers have argued that the Senator doesn’t need to participate in forums on LGBTQ+ equality if his views on the subject have been on the record for decades, Five Came Back author and Vanity Fair contributor Mark Harris says that’s simply not true: “I'm getting a lot of ‘He's pro-gay, what more do you want?’”
“Well, one thing I want is for some of you to stop thinking that ‘gay’ is an issue and saying you're ‘pro’ covers it,” he wrote. “There are dozens of [LGBTQ+] specific issues. That's why there’s a forum.”
But while Sanders has his record to fall back on, Yang has been more evasive when it comes to his history on LGBTQ+ rights. His campaign website quotes the venture capitalist as saying he’s “always been pro-gay marriage,” but his views weren’t a matter of public interest before he ran for office, meaning that his bonafides are essentially self-reported.
Although Yang’s 2020 site has a page outlining his LGBTQ+ agenda — putting him ahead of candidates like Biden in that respect — it doesn’t outline his support for a single specific piece of legislation or policy proposal.
When this reporter has reached out to the candidate’s campaign in the past to discuss LGBTQ+ rights, his team declined to respond. In keeping with that pattern, Yang’s team again declined to clarify why he will not be participating in either the GLAAD Forum or the CNN Town Hall.
According to polling averages compiled by RealClearPolitics, Sanders is currently in third behind Biden and Warren, while Yang is in a tie for sixth place with Buttigieg. Biden, Buttigieg, and Warren have confirmed attendance at both events.