As trans women of color demanded to be heard during CNN’s LGBTQ+ Town Hall on Thursday, presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar showed she’s listening to some of the most marginalized members of the community. During a gaggle with members of the press, the Minnesota Senator passed the mic to a trans woman of color.
Klobuchar shared the moment with Andrea Jenkins, who was her guest to the historic event, the largest-ever presidential forum to center LGBTQ+ rights. In 2017, Jenkins became the first out transgender woman to be elected to the Minneapolis City Council — as well as the first Black trans woman to be elected to any city council in the United States.
Jenkins, who also identifies as queer and bisexual, won 73 percent of the vote during her campaign, edging out three opponents. During the same election, Phillipe Cunningham was also elected to the city council, making history as one of the first openly trans men to be elected to public office.
Out asked Kloubuchar and Jenkins why they feel it's important to center trans women of color — particularly violence against trans women of color — during discussions about LGBTQ+ rights.
Klobuchar deferred to Jenkins on the subject.
“It matters when we are at the table to be a part of the dialogue to really shape the narrative that is surrounding our communities,” Jenkins said. “People think that we are all sex workers and drug dealers or some other kind of nefarious behavior. And that is because society has pushed trans women of color into these situations because there's no other options.”
“That's why I ran for public office to be able to address these broader issues,” she added, “but also to make sure that when we are addressing those issues, Black trans women's voices are part of it.”
When Out asked if she had anything to add on the subject, Klobuchar said with a smile that she was satisfied with allowing Jenkins to speak to the issue.
“I have nothing to add to that,” she said. “That’s why I brought her as my guest.”
The moment was well-time, as trans women of color felt seen but not heard during the LGBTQ+ Town Hall. As Out previously reported, CNN rescinded an invitation for activist Ashlee Marie Preston to ask a question during the evening. Meanwhile, members of the community protested during the live event in what was described as an act of erasure.
Even as the moment represented a teachable moment for other candidates, it’s took place outside of public view.
Meanwhile, Klobuchar still has her own work to do to address the needs of the broader community. The self-described moderate candidate has yet to outline a robust LGBTQ+ platform on her campaign website, even as Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and Elizabeth Warren unveiled their plans the day of the debate.
Her position on sex worker rights may also not sit well with many LGBTQ+ people. While speaking with the press, Klobuchar — who was a co-sponsor of the FOSTA/SESTA Act — emphasized that she doesn’t support the full decriminalization of sex work, an issue of importance to trans women of color who face discrimination and hate-based violence while engaging in the trade or survival sex work.
“I would work with... others about whatever we can do to make sure that there isn't harm to people,” she said. “A lot of the people that work in the industry are victims, but all of them are, but I do feel strongly that I don't want to decriminalize it.”
Klobuchar did note, however, that she planned to discuss the issue with an audience member who asked about her position on sex work during the Town Hall.
Only four candidates have come out in favor of some form of decriminalization: Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Mike Gravel, and Tulsi Gabbard. In her LGBTQ+ platform released earlier that day, Warren stated she is “open” to the discussion, while Buttigieg took a similar position during a separate press gaggle during the Town Hall event.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an easy conversation but it’s time for us to have mature conversations [about it],” he told reporters.
Overall, trans people aren’t protected from discrimination — whether in sex work or other professions — in 29 states, and 31 states lack trans-inclusive hate crime laws. Federal protections are also virtually nonexistent, as Congress has yet to fully pass the Equality Act, a piece of legislation supported by many of the leading candidates in the Democratic presidential primary.