Democratic Candidates Eager to Prove Who’s the Best LGBTQ+ and Immigrant Ally

By Brian Oaster

Half of the 20 Democratic presidential candidates took the stage last night for the first Democratic debates, and LGBTQ+ issue went front and center with them.

Bill de Blasio, Julián Castro, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren sounded off about hot topics including the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ Americans.

Gabbard Accounts For Her Checkered Past

The conversation around queerness kicked off when moderator Lester Holt called on Tulsi Gabbard to account for her past work lobbying with her father’s anti-LGBTQ+ Christian group. Gabbard responded:

“Let me say that there is no one in our government at any level who has the right to tell any American who they should be allowed to love or who they should be allowed to marry.

“My record in Congress for over six years shows my commitment to fighting for LGBTQ equality. I serve on the Equality Caucus and recently voted for passage of the Equality Act.

“Maybe many people in this country can relate to the fact that I grew up in a socially conservative home, held views when I was very young that I no longer hold today.”

“I served with LGBTQ service members, both in training and deployed down the range. I know they would give their life for me, and I would give my life for them.”

Cory Booker Says Gabbard’s Position is ‘Not Enough’

Senator Cory Booker expressed his position that Gabbard’s current support is simply too weak. He differentiated himself by expressing an urgent need to ensure the safety of the Black trans community. “It’s not enough,” he said of Gabbard’s remarks. “Look, civil rights is someplace to begin, but in the African American civil rights community, another place to focus on was to stop the lynching of African-Americans.

“We do not talk enough about trans Americans, especially African-American trans Americans and the incredibly high rates of murder right now.

“We don’t talk enough about how many children, about 30 percent of LGBTQ kids, who do not go to school because of fear. It’s not enough just to be on the Equality Act.

“I’m an original co-sponsor. We need to have a president that will fight to protect LGBTQ Americans every single day from violence in America.”

Julián Castro Missteps With ‘Trans’ Fumble

Julián Castro weighed in to show support, but made a misstep when he said ‘trans female’ instead of ‘trans man’.

“I don’t believe only in reproductive freedom,” he said. “I believe in reproductive justice.

“What that means is that just because a woman, or let’s also not forget someone in the trans community, a trans female, is poor, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the right to exercise that right to choose. And so I absolutely would cover the right to have an abortion.”

Other Voices Weigh In on LGBTQ+ Issues

Representative Tim Ryan, who did not vote on the Equality Act, said that it’s important to protect workers regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said that “GLAAD commends tonight’s inclusion of LGBTQ issues by debate moderators in this first debate of the 2020 presidential cycle.

“Putting LGBTQ-specific issues front and center stands in stark contrast to the rhetoric and record of the Trump administration, which has put a target on the backs of LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities since the day he took office.”

Immigration Debate Both Emotional and Technical

The conversation around immigration touched upon a recent photograph of Salvadoran father Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23 month old daughter Angie Valeria. The viral photo showed the family dead on a riverbank after an attempted swim to the Stateside bank, and sparked outrage over media’s inhumane usage of this photo instead of one that framed them as a living, relatable, human family. Julián Castro called the viral image “heartbreaking,” and added that it “should also piss us all off.”

“If I were president today — and it should spur us to action,” he said. “If I were president today, I would sign an executive order that would get rid of Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, the remain in Mexico policy, and the metering policy — this metering policy is basically what prompted Oscar and Valeria to make that risky swim across the river.”

Castro and O’Rourke Spar Over Immigration Laws

Castro went on to propose a Central American Marshall Plan, resembling that used to rebuild Europe after World War II, “so that people can find safety and opportunity at home instead of coming to the United States to seek it.”

Beto O’Rourke weighed in by saying the US should not turn its back on immigrants like the drowned father and daughter, but should “accept them into this country and follow our own asylum laws”. He said we should “spare no expense” to bring back together the families that the Trump administration has separated at the border.

Castro challenged O’Rourke by asking if he would promise to repeal Section 1325 of the Immigration & Nationality Act, the act that makes illegal entry to the US a misdemeanor, which he said enables the child separation to continue. O’Rourke did not commit, saying instead that Castro was “looking at just one small part of this” instead of taking a bigger picture view for a comprehensive solution. Castro called the assertion “not true.”

“And you said recently that the reason you didn’t want to repeal Section 1325,” Castro added, “was because you were concerned about human trafficking and drug trafficking. But let me tell you what: Section 18, title 18 of the U.S. code, title 21 and title 22, already cover human trafficking. I think that you should do your homework on this issue.”

Candidates Address the Audience in Spanish

O’Rourke performed his allyship by answering his first question in English and Spanish. Julian Castro and Cory Booker also addressed the audience in Spanish at various points during the debate, setting a precedent that no Republican would likely dare follow—or probably could even if they wanted.

Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, and the other Democratic candidates will debate tonight.

Brian Oaster

Brian is a Choctaw writer in the Pacific Northwest.