On Wednesday night, Salt Lake City hosted 2020's first vice presidential debate. There, Kamala Harris and Mike Pence got down to a bit of substance from their two respective tickets — even when Pence avoided answering almost every single question that was posed. In many ways, it was a marked difference from the first (and possibly the only one, given that Trump has said he will not participate in the virtual events the debate commission has decided to move forward with) presidential debate. But, in at least one major way, it was the exact same.
"This is the fourth missed chance in a nationally-televised forum of the general election to addess any LGBTQ issues," GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis tweeted after the debate ended. "VP Pence should have been called to account for his role in the administration's 181 attacks against the LGBTQ" community." It was a sentiment we concurred with while live-tweeting the event.
"LGBTQ voters may cast the deciding votes in this election and we need to be a part of the conversation," Ellis continued. "The moderators must include us. The candidates must acknowledge us. LGBTQ people deserve to know where the candidates stand on issues of life and death to us. We will continue to demand to be seen and heard."
And what she says is completely accurate. While every presidential candidate should be clear about where they stand, and answer questions about their stances, the stakes are higher for LGBTQ+ communities in this moment. As pointed out by Harris, the Biden-Pence administration has packed the courts in their tenure in an unprecedented way. District leader Samy Nemir-Olivares referred to it as "Stacking the Courts" on Twitter, pointing out that in addition to appointing no Black or Latino judges, the administration appointed over 200 judges to various levels of the judiciary, a third of whom have an anti-LGBTQ+ record.
What's more is that though some may think their rights are safe as they've already been decided, recent statements from conservative justices on the Supreme Court have undermined that position. Just days ago, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito called marriage equality into question, intimating that it should be overturned. As American Civil Liberties Union attorney Chase Strangio points out, such a move could have damning consequences establishing that precedent will not protect rights.
"The brazenness of the rightward direction of the Court is a threat to even the most basic expectation of legal protection," Strangio wrote to Twitter. This, as noted conservative Amy Coney Barrett seems poised to take up a seat on the bench. "What we can expect is the continued erosion of legal protections gained over the past century. And even if you, like me, are critical of movement priorities like marriage quality or formal systems like non-discrimination law, these threats will impact everything."
So it is imperative, specifically in this moment, to get answers and expose the actions of people running for office who have published letters urging employers not to hire gay people. As head of the Indiana Policy Review he published one letter that claimed "Homosexuals are not as a group able-bodied. 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." Given that protections for LGBTQ+ employees have only recently been won and this administration has not progressed the Equality Act (which, if passed, would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity from the workplace and most walks of life), moderators have a duty to broach these topics and hold the candidates' feet to the fire until we get some answers.