LGBTQ advocates warn of ‘enormous slight’ if Trump, Biden aren’t asked about policies

Advocates are calling for President Biden and former President Trump to answer for their LGBTQ records and policy proposals at Thursday evening’s debate.

The debate, hosted by CNN in Atlanta, is the first to take place during LGBTQ Pride month, which is recognized each year in June. A second debate is scheduled for Sep. 10, hosted by ABC.

“This will be an enormous slight to our community if LGBTQ questions are not asked during this debate,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD. “Our community is deeply affected by where these candidates stand.”

In a letter on Tuesday, Ellis pressed moderators Dana Bash and Jake Tapper to ask Trump and Biden about their past statements and policies and their plans to advance the rights of LGBTQ people if they are elected in November.

“The safety and freedom of LGBTQ people depends on your engagement with the candidates and ability to inform voters about their records and proposals,” Ellis wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill.

Moderators of last year’s Republican primary debates, in which Trump did not participate, largely steered clear of LGBTQ issues despite Republicans seizing on transgender rights on the campaign trail. A question pitched to candidates by moderator Megyn Kelly during the fourth and final GOP presidential debate in December asked whether parents should support gender-affirming surgeries for minors, which guidelines set by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, a nonprofit professional association focused on transgender health care, do not recommend.

Ellis said she’d like to see both Trump and Biden asked Thursday about marriage equality, rising anti-LGBTQ hate and extremism, gender-affirming health care and the Equality Act — federal legislation that would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes.

LGBTQ voters turned out in droves in 2020, representing up to 8 percent of the overall electorate and playing a key role in Biden’s victory over Trump that year, according to a Washington Post analysis of election surveys.

LGBTQ voters surveyed by GLAAD in March said they are highly motivated to vote in November’s elections, with 83 percent indicating they are “definitely” voting. When asked about their level of motivation to participate in this year’s elections on a zero-to-10-point scale, 88 percent of LGBTQ voters rated themselves between seven and 10.

“We are poised to be the decisive voting bloc in the 2024 election, which is what we were in the 2020 election,” Ellis said. “So, we have to be a part of this conversation.”

“I certainly hope that the moderators bring up the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ issues, because there is a stark contrast between the two candidates,” said Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, which works to elect more LGBTQ people to public office.

Trump has promised to enact at least a dozen policies targeting members of the LGBTQ community if he is reelected, including a nationwide ban on transgender student-athletes competing in accordance with their gender identity and a federal law that recognizes only two genders. The former president has also vowed to punish doctors who administer gender-affirming care to minors, roll back new LGBTQ student protections instituted by the Biden administration and cut federal funding for schools that accommodate transgender students.

Trump at a campaign event last year pledged to restore his ban on transgender people serving in the military, a policy that was reversed by Biden in 2021.

Biden, who frequently touts his administration as the most pro-LGBTQ in history, expanded federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people and condemned violence and threats made against the community. In 2022, Biden signed legislation safeguarding marriage equality.

The president has fallen short on some promises made to LGBTQ voters, however, including a pledge to safeguard access to gender-affirming health care as more Republican-led states move to ban treatment for minors.

“I hope we see a substantive conversation on the records of these two men for the fight for a more equal society,” Brandon Wolf, press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign, which has endorsed Biden in the race, said of Thursday’s debate. “Because, make no mistake, equality is a winning issue.”

“A vast majority of people in this country support an America that treats people with dignity and respect; they support an America that prevents people from experiencing discrimination and harm simply because of who they are,” said Wolf. “That is where the American people largely are, and I hope we get an opportunity on that stage to see the contrast between these two candidates.”

Even if Trump and Biden are asked about LGBTQ issues Thursday evening, it remains to be seen whether their answers will move the needle. Presidential debates are typically held much later in the cycle, and voters might not be paying attention yet.

“I’ve been on a November ballot 11 times,” said Parker, a former mayor of Houston. “Nobody pays attention until after Labor Day — unless you have a reason to be scared or excited. I think there’s plenty of reason to be scared.”

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