While the questions at last night’s presidential debate seemed to touch on everything from climate change to Trump’s response to the global pandemic, one topic remained off the table as it has for 12 years. For the third and final presidential debate of 2020, there were no LGBTQ+-specific questions. Zero questions asked about Trump’s trans military ban or the historic levels of violence committed against the transgender community under his watch. Zero questions on the recent Supreme Court decision recognizing LGBTQ+ protections enshrined in current law. Zero questions about the attacks on marriage equality and the administration support of discrimination against trans athletes and queer parents seeking to adopt. But this isn't new.
The last moderator to pose a question about LGBTQ+ issues in a debate for the country’s highest offices was the late Gwen Iffel of the PBS Newshour according to Media Matters, who in 2008 raised the issue of marriage equality to then-Senator Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska whose telescopic vision allowed her to see Russia from her Alaskan town. Both were running for vice president at the time. Since then, crickets.
“President Trump was not asked about his administration’s 180+ attacks on LGBTQ rights and people tonight, nor in any other debate or town hall,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, tweeted yesterday.
Instead, the topics of debate included the global pandemic, racism, climate change, economic issues, national security, and how the candidates would govern. These are all issues of importance, but the lack of LGBTQ+ issues was telling in light of the increasing hostility by the current administration to the gains made by the community in recent years. The tragic passing of ally Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the impending elevation of Amy Coney Barrett to fill her empty seat on the Supreme Court, means those very same hard-fought gains may now be threatened by judicial fiat from the nation’s highest court.
“The LGBTQ community represents a critical voting bloc, and their rights deserve attention at the debates,” Alex Patterson wrote for Media Matters, reiterating a point often made by Ellis.
In lieu of moderators asking these questions, at town halls candidates have been asked by their constituents specifically. Case in point, at his town hall last week, Biden was asked two LGBTQ+ specific questions. In his answers he said that given Barrett's ascension LGBTQ+ communities have "great reason to be concerned," but that he would work to protect rights by "flat out [changing] the law."