ABC News(LOS ANGELES) — Nine Democratic presidential candidates brought their campaigns to Los Angeles on Thursday night for a town hall focused on LGBTQ issues, the biggest of its kind so far focusing on this particular topic, and hosted by CNN.
The only openly LGBT candidate on stage, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was interrupted by protesters who were calling attention to the murders of black transgender women at the top of his time, but he acknowledged their concern.
“I believe, or would like to believe, that everybody here is committed to ending that epidemic, and that does include lifting up its visibility and speaking to it,” Buttigieg said.
It’s not clear why they chose Buttigieg’s time to protest.
Buttigieg also said he’s mindful of the fact that his experience as a gay white man has been different than that of a “black gay woman that I also do not understand.”
“There is no right or wrong way to be gay, to be queer, to be trans, and I hope that our own community, even as we struggle to define what our identity means, defines it in a way that lets everybody know that they belong among us,” he said.
Sen. Cory Booker was first to take the stage, connecting much of the current LGBTQ community fight for equal rights to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
CNN’s Dana Bash asked Booker twice if he believed religious institutions should lose their tax-exempt status if they discriminate against the LGBTQ community. He wouldn’t give a yes or no answer and you could hear some in the audience react negatively. Booker only promised to hold schools “accountable” through “consequences.”
Front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, repeated a topic he’s discussed regularly on the trail — that he was ahead of his former boss, President Barack Obama, on pushing gay rights during that administration.
Biden said one of the biggest things he would do as president is pass the equality act to give workplace protections to members of the LGBTQ community, and argued that most people were not aware that a gay person could be fired from their job because of their sexual orientation.
Biden suggested asking someone, “Do you think if somebody got married on Monday, they could they get fired on Tuesday?”
“They’re gonna look at you and tell you, ‘No!'” Biden continued. “They don’t know it. The American people are the better than we give them credit for, but we allow the homophobes to be able to control the agenda.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren had one of the more memorable moments of the night, earning laughs from the crowd when asked what she would say to someone who only wants marriage to be between a man and woman.
She responded, “I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that. And I’m going to say, then just marry one woman — assuming you can find one.”
More poignant, however, Booker, Biden and Warren showed remorse for past homophobic opinions and votes on legislation that restricted gay rights.
Warren was asked if she regretted saying that she didn’t think a transition surgery for a Massachusetts prisoner was a “a good use of taxpayer dollars” in 2012, when she was running for Senate. It’s been described in the LGBTQ community as the one blemish on her record on LGBTQ issues.
“Yeah. It was a bad answer. And I think it was a bad answer. And I believe that everyone is entitled to medical care and medical care that they need and that includes people who are transgender who it is the time for them to have gender-affirming surgery. I just think that’s appropriate and the appropriate medical care,” she said.
Biden tried to explain his previous stance on “don’t ask, don’t tell,” saying he voted against it individually, but then in favor of it only when it was part of a larger defense bill. Biden then argued that when he got the chance as vice president, he worked with Obama to make sure that it was repealed — as it was in 2010.
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