Wednesday night during the campaign season’s first Democratic debates, Cory Booker called out Tulsi Gabbard for her checkered past with LGBTQ+ issues. He said her current support of the Equality Act is “not enough”, and made an impassioned case for the need to protect LGBTQ+ people, especially Black trans kids, from the everyday violence they face in America today.
Booker set himself apart with the urgency of his concern. But we shouldn’t be too eager to see Gabbard dragged over her conservative past. Rather, we should consider her transformation a win for love.
Gabbard’s Past Campaigning Against ‘Homosexual Extremists’
In 2004, Gabbard was a 22 year old State representative in Hawaii, lobbying against a bill that would legalize gay civil unions. She said:
“To try to act as if there is a difference between ‘civil unions’ and same-sex marriage is dishonest, cowardly and extremely disrespectful to the people of Hawaii,” she said. “As Democrats, we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists.” It wouldn’t be the last time she would use the term “homosexual extremists”.
Her father, Mike Gabbard, was a Republican at the time, and a Catholic. He led a movement to introduce legislation that would ban same-sex marriage in Hawaii, and Tulsi supported him. But she eventually changed tacks.
Earlier this year, Gabbard reneged on her previously held point of view. “First,” she said, “let me say I regret the positions I took in the past, and the things I said. I’m grateful for those in the LGBTQ+ community who have shared their aloha with me throughout my personal journey.”
She’s signed onto the Equality Act and now vocalizes a position of allyship.
Turning Away From a Hateful Upbringing to Embrace Love
That’s not to say we should let her off the hook. All of us are accountable for our words and actions, not least of all public figures and politicians who have a platform and hold sway with the public. But whatever degree of mercy we’re each individually willing to extend to her, Gabbard’s shift from hateful conservative to supportive ally is a common story among her generation’s many ex-fundamentalists, and it’s a win for love.
A lot of us who are now out of the closet, and many of our allies, come from similarly repressive and hateful upbringings. It’s a testament to the power of love that we’ve escaped the pews and the dogma. Fundamentalist rhetoric can take a remarkably deep hold on one’s perspective, thoughts, and language patterns. Layers of internalized transphobia and homophobia can continue to reveal themselves, even in the minds of trans, queer and gay people, when they were raised conservative Christians. For some it’s a life’s work to undo it all. As anyone with this background will likely attest, going against your cultural programming to rewrite your worldview on such levels is no small task.
We’ve Won Gabbard Over For Love. Let’s Welcome Her.
Whether Gabbard’s position on our rights and safety is strong enough or not, the LGBTQ+ community should consider her current support a success by any measure. We can hold her accountable for her words without condemning her for past ignorance.
There will always be room to learn and do more. Whether she’s your candidate or not, whether she’s the right leader for the Democratic party or the presidency, the LGBTQ+ community’s response to her journey away from hate is an important point. When we win people over to the light of love, will we welcome them or punish them? Gabbard has turned to embrace us. Let’s at least embrace her back.