LGBTQ Advocates Want Democrats to Hit These Issues on the Debate Stage

Our checklist for the next Democratic presidential debate, and for GLAAD and HRC's LGBTQ-focused debates.

By Thor Benson, with reporting by NewNowNext Editors

Though all of the top Democratic presidential candidates say they are champions of LGBTQ rights, queer issues have gotten little air-time at the debates thus far. That is about to change and next as GLAAD and HRC are poised to hosted two separate 2020 debates devoted entirely to LGBTQ issues later this month and next.

LGBTQ advocates are also hoping the candidates use their platform at the next general debate this Thursday, September 12, to talk queer issues.

“We know the Democratic Party has shown us through their actions that they support us, “Drew Anderson, director of campaigns and rapid response at GLAAD, tells NewNowNext. “But we still need them to be engaged for what is the most consequential election of modern time.”

“Our community is still under attack, and we need substantive change in order to be protected both legally and in our communities,” Lucas Acosta, HRC’s national press secretary for campaigns, adds.

Advocates note that many Americans are under the false impression that LGBTQ people can’t be legally fired for being out in their jobs.

“Polling indicates that rising percentages of the American public believe the LGBTQ people already have comprehensive civil rights protections,” Jenny Pizer, law and policy director at Lambda Legal, tells NewNowNext.

Candidates have a role to play in dispelling these myths and promoting policies to advance equality. Here are a few other topics they want to see take the stage:

Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Violence Against Transgender Americans

One of the top issues LGBTQ rights advocates want to see discussed in the debates is violence against transgender people, especially trans women of color. At least 18 transgender people have been murdered so far this year, slating it to be the deadliest year on record. Black trans women overwhelmingly represent those killed.

“What are the candidates’ plans to address this and protect LGBTQ people?” Acosta asks.

Acosta notes that candidates often tweet about violence against transgender Americans, but he wants to hear candidates talk—specifically—about their plans to address this epidemic of violence.

Key Questions:
– What will your administration do to stem the epidemic of violence against transgender women of color?

– FOSTA/SESTA has been blamed for an uptick in violence against sex workers. This particularly impacts transgender women who face employment discrimination and turn to survival sex work. What is your stance on FOSTA/SESTA?

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, trans people are three times more likely to be unemployed than the general population, this puts them at greater risk of homelessness and violence. What will your administration do to put trans people to work?

Zackary Drucker/Gender Spectrum Collection by Broadly

Access to Health Care

The Trump administration has made staggering rollbacks to LGBTQ healthcare these past three years, most substantially by gutting transgender protections in the Affordable Care Act, and allowing healthcare providers the option of declining to serve trans people, perform abortions or treat people with HIV.

Many 2020 candidates are talking not just about undoing the harms caused under Trump but in implementing progressive policy in his absence. Many support Medicare for all.

Key Questions:
– Do you believe that access to gender-confirmation surgery and other transgender medical care is a human right? If so, what would you do to make it accessible?

– The Trump Administration has made a number of striking rollbacks to transgender health protections the past three years. What would your policy priorities be around health your first 100 days in office?

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Transgender Incarceration

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, trans people are more than twice as likely to have been incarcerated as the general population, and nearly half (47%) of black trans people will be incarcerated at some point in life.

Once there, they face extraordinary levels of abuse, sexual assault, and even death. This is compounded by the fact that the Trump Administration discarded transgender protections in federal prison manuals last May.

This May, trans woman Layleen Polanco died at Rikers Island of epilepsy after being held in solitary confinement. Her family is suing over the death.

Key Questions:
-The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act requires state prisons to interview trans people about where they will feel safest before placing them in men’s or women’s facilities, but widely disregarded. How will you oversee compliance of this mandate?

-Widespread media reports indicate that transgender people behind bars are denied gender-affirming healthcare. What is your stance on transgender healthcare for incarcerated people?

-States increasingly recognize nonbinary people with gender-neutral IDs. What is the future of prisons that are currently binary in gender?

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Conversion Therapy

About a third of American states have laws banning conversion therapy, but advocates believe this harmful practice should be banned nationwide.

“Do the candidates support the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would provide explicit authority to the Federal Trade Commission to block advertising of these fraudulent services?” Acosta asks.

A new survey found nearly one in seven transgender people have been subjected to conversion therapy. Candidates not only need to commit to working to end conversion therapy, but should also have a plan for helping heal the communities that have been harmed by it already.

Key Questions:
– Would you implement a federal ban on conversion therapy? If yes, would push to extend that ban to encompass people of all ages?

– Would your nationwide health care plans include counseling and mental health care coverage for survivors of conversion therapy?

– How would you combat faith-based anti-LGBTQ groups who use religious liberty as a means to justify conversion therapy?

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Adoption for Same-Sex Couples

The Trump administration is reportedly considering rolling back Obama-era rules that prevent adoption agencies from discriminating against same-sex couples.

Acosta wants candidates to plainly state if they would allow adoption agencies to reject same-sex couples solely based on their sexual orientation.

Key Questions:
– Would you support religiously-affiliated adoption agencies that seek to operate while turning away same-sex parents?

– What will you do to help queer families get to a place where they have the same rights as non-queer families?

Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Immigration Policy and LGBTQ Rights Abroad

Among the most pressing issues facing LGBTQ voters next year will be immigration, as an untold number of queer asylum seekers now face rejection under new Trump Administration policies. Two transgender women have died in two years after being in ICE custody, and ICE is facing serious allegations of abusing trans people in detention. The Democratic nominee should be able to speak not just to the crisis in immigration policy, but those facing LGBTQ people in particular, many of whom face deadly conditions of forced to return to their home countries.

Also the most disturbing but least-reported trends in recent years has been the increasing investment American anti-LGBTQ hate groups make in promoting animus abroad.

Since marriage equality became the law of the land in 2015, HRC has tracked millions of dollars funneled into Russia, Rwanda, Haiti, Mexico, Italy, Belize, Kenya, Canada, Jamaica, Poland, and France, to name a few, in an effort to export U.S. homophobia and transphobia.

What makes this trend particularly troubling is that it comes at a time when the U.S. is shutting its borders to asylum-seekers. In July, prominent Russian LGBTQ activist Yelena Grigoryeva was stabbed to death. LGBTQ activists have since called on the Trump administration to condemn the violence and to allow LGBTQ refugees into the U.S.

Key Questions:
– What is your stance on ICE and detention?

– How would you deal with LGBTQ people seeking asylum for sex- or gender-based persecution in their home countries?

– Can/should the U.S. government regulate anti-LGBTQ hate groups?

– What can the U.S. government do to promote LGBTQ equality abroad?

KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images

Queer Youth and the Aftereffects of the Trump Administration

Young queer people who can’t vote in 2020 have been particularly impacted by Trump administration policies. LGBTQ rights advocates say both the policies enacted by the Trump administration and the ideology the administration has spread need to be addressed by Democrats.

Anderson wants to know how the Democratic candidates would “reverse the 118 anti-LGBTQ actions made by the Trump Administration.” He also believes the rhetoric coming from the administration is harming LGBTQ people.

“This rhetoric that is almost like a drumbeat now against the LGBTQ community has longterm consequences, and it’s affecting how younger Americans view the community,” Anderson adds.

A GLAAD poll from earlier this year found non-LGBTQ Americans ages 18–34 are becoming less comfortable with LGBTQ people. In 2018, their poll found 53% of Americans in this age range were comfortable with LGBTQ people, and that number dipped to 45% in 2019.

Key Questions:
– Would you reverse Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ decision to eliminate nondiscrimination protections for transgender students in American public schools?

– What measures would you implement to ensure trans and queer people can serve openly in the U.S. military?

– The country appears to be facing a crisis not just in policy, but in conscience. How can we move forward and what will you do to promote healing and justice for LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities?

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