At CNN Town Hall, Democrats Talk About LGBTQ People Like They Are People
Nine of the Democratic presidential candidates participated in CNN's Equality Town Hall Thursday night. They directly addressed issues relevant to LGBTQ Americans as if they are citizens who vote. This is probably one of the biggest shifts in politics I've personally witnessed in my (middle-lengthy) adult life. LGBTQ people were politically invisible just a couple decades ago. If they were acknowledged at all, the focus remained on the perspective and comfort level of straight people. Here's a CNN compilation of presidential and vice presidential candidates declaring their opposition to same-sex marriage. This includes Ellen DeGeneres's BFF George W. Bush and current Democratic candidate Joe Biden, who eventually voiced his support in 2012. Ellen should probably hang out more with Uncle Joe.
Presidential Candidates on Same-Sex Marriage www.youtube.com
So, in just seven years and two presidential cycles, Democrats stopped centering heterosexual unions. They no longer nod and agree with Republicans that we must defend "traditional" marriage from whatever gay people are doing that they'd rather not discuss. Two of the moderators at last night's town hall were openly gay men, Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon. Lemon is engaged and plans to "redefine" the hell out of marriage. And we should never forget that an actual presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg, is openly gay and married to a man. Even back in 2008, when the leading Democratic candidates were a black man and a woman, we'd have considered this a fantasy or merely the subject for an unfunny "Saturday Night Live" sketch. Now, it's reality, assholes, and if you start talking about "traditional marriage between one man and one woman," our girl Elizabeth Warren is going to tell you to sit down and shut up.
That's some bold-ass shit. Warren just said, "Get out of my face with that faith-based bigotry. And go buy yourself a new wig because I just snatched that raggedy one off your head." This is a truly new Democrat, and not in the Joe Lieberman "I'm practically a Republican, please vote for me" way.
Beto O'Rourke (yes, he's still in the race) threw down the gauntlet and declared that so-called religious institutions should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose marriage equality.
O'ROURKE: There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. And so as president, we are going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.
This is a full-bodied embrace of queer Americans as people who have rights we must defend. There is no clearer distinction between Democrats and Republicans, especially now as Republican-nominated Supreme Court justices conspire to strip LGBTQ Americans of their rights. Conservatives often claim to oppress in the name of "religious liberty," and Buttigieg called this out for the hypocrisy it is.
Buttigieg I wish Pence would understand this www.youtube.com
BUTTIGIEG: Without telling others how to worship, the Christian tradition that I belong to instructs me to identify with the marginalized and the greatest thing that any of us has to offer is love. Religious liberty is an important principle in this country and we honor that. It's the case that any freedom that we honor in this country has limits when it comes to harming other people.
Conservatives have for generations now considered any expression of freedom from LGBTQ people as an "attack" on their own way of life. Buttigieg eloquently flips this on its head. It's no longer queer people who are "un-American," it's anyone who would deny them their constitutional rights.
Kamala Harris also impressed last night. When she came on stage, the introduced herself with her preferred pronouns of "she, her, and hers." This is fairly common now, but unfortunately it's also common for clueless people to make light of it.
Host Chris Cuomo later apologized for his groan-inducing moment, but there's a lesson here for every guy who thinks this is funny. It's not. Please, out of respect, try to take this seriously. Don't say, "My pronouns are he, it, hey you!" (I've heard this one recently.) This is a big deal for trans and non-binary people especially. We shouldn't treat it as a big joke. Don't worry. You'll have another opportunity to prove how not-funny you are.
This gaffe might've overshadowed the rest of Harris's appearance, which is a shame. She has longstanding receipts within the LGBTQ community. She spoke movingly about officiating the first same-sex marriage in San Francisco -- and in fact calling the clerks as AG to tell them it was time.
She also promised as president to fight for the protection of trans Americans.
Trans people and their specific issues are often ignored in these settings. Cooper was respectful and sympathetic of protestors for trans rights. He didn't silence or ignore them.
COOPER: Let me just point out, there is a long and proud tradition and history in the gay and lesbian and transgender community of protest, and we applaud them for their protest. And they're absolutely right to be angry and upset at the lack of attention, particularly in the media on the lives of transgender [people of color].
Buttigieg earned applause when he acknowledged the "epidemic of violence against black trans women."
BUTTIGIEG: And I believe or would like to believe that everybody here is committed to ending that epidemic, and that does include lifting up … visibility and speaking to it
Cuomo didn't have the only gaffe of the night. You'll recall that Joe Biden was there. He joked that he was going to "come out" as gay and -- no, not kidding, this actually happened -- pretended that he was going to kiss Cooper. Biden's own touchy-feely issues aren't improved if he's an equal opportunity molester. Gay men and straight women both like the same bars and probably prefer that random old men don't feel them up.
What I appreciated about most of the other candidates was that they spoke to LGBTQ Americans. Biden's plea for tolerance felt like he was trying to convince Donald Trump voters at a Pennsylvania biker bar.
BIDEN: It's normal. It's normalized. It's not anything strange. It's not strange.
Yeah, we know. Barack Obama is also "articulate, bright, and clean."
BIDEN: Remember, Anderson? Back 15, 20 years ago when we talked about this in San Francisco, it was all about, well, gay bath houses. It was all about round-the-clock sex. Come on, man. Gay couples are more likely to stay together longer than heterosexual couples.
Straight people are idiots. I know from personal experience. I guess the point -- and it's a fair one -- is that we've "evolved." That's the popular euphemism for straight people reconsidering their bigotry.
Tragically, Biden didn't deliver the weirdest moment of the night. For some reason, Warren thought she was on "American Idol" and performed some crazy-ass religious song about Jesus loving "yellow, black, and white" children. The lyrics are the sort of hippie-dippy shit you heard in the 1970s, so I'm not offended as a black person. I'm offended as someone who appreciates music. Was there a note in that tune?
If I ran the world, I'd require that people have a license to sing publicly. Elizabeth Warren would get my vote but she would not get a singing license.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.