The four hours of the first Democratic presidential debate among 20 candidates focused heavily on issues of immigration, health care, corporate power and climate change. But there were several LGBTQ+ moments as well.

Who said what about LGBTQ+ issues during the first 2020 Democratic presidential debate – and who stayed silent

The only specific LGBTQ+ question during both night of the debates came when U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii was asked about her past anti-gay stances, including her opposition to marriage equality. Gabbard said she grew up in a socially conservative family and knows now her beliefs were wrong after serving with gay and lesbian servicemembers in the Hawaii Army National Guard.

“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,” she said. The Equality Act, passed by the U.S. House this year, is legislation that would bring federal protections in housing, health care and employment to LGBTQ people.

“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,” Gabbard said.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker said Gabbard did not go far enough by not mentioning transgender citizens, and he brought up the many black transgender women who are being killed. “We do not talk enough about trans Americans, especially African-American trans Americans and the incredibly high rates of murder right now,” Booker said to applause.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro also brought up transgender Americans when he discussed reproductive justice.

“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,” Castro said.
But he mixed up trans men and women when making his statement, correcting himself on Twitter.

Booker’s and Castro’s comments are believed to be the first time transgender Americans were noted in a presidential debate in a positive light, according to liberal media watchdog group Media Matters.

In a dramatic exchange between U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden, Harris challenged Biden on his decades-old stance against busing to desegregate public schools. Biden shot back by saying he only opposed a federal mandate on busing, and then laid out his support on many social justice issues, including his support for marriage equality and LGBTQ+ equality.

“Everything I have done in my career, I ran because of civil rights,” Biden said. “I continue to think we have to make fundamental changes in civil rights, and those civil rights, by the way, include not just only African-Americans, but the LGBT community.”

When U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was asked about his past statements on a minority being represented on the Democratic presidential ticket, he answered the Democratic party should not only be about marginalized communities.

“Unlike the Republican Party, we encourage diversity, we believe in diversity. That’s what America is about,” Sanders said.

“But in addition to diversity, in terms of having more women, more people from the LGBT community, we also have to do something else,” Sanders said. “And that is, we have to ask ourselves a simple question, in that how come today the worker in the middle of our economy is making no more money than he or she made 45 years ago, and that in the last 30 years, the top 1 percent has seen a $21 trillion increase in their wealth?”

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg made history as the first openly gay candidate to be included in a presidential debate, but only referenced his sexual orientation during his opening remarks when he mentioned his husband, Chasten, and during his closing comments when he mentioned his marriage exists only “by the grace of a single vote on the Supreme Court.”

To read the full transcript of the first night of the debate, click here.

To read the full transcript of the second night of the debate, click here.


Photo via Scripps Media