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Democratic 2020 hopefuls tout LGBTQ plans at town hall

Democratic 2020 hopefuls tout LGBTQ plans at town hall
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Nine Democratic presidential hopefuls promoted their plans to push for LGBTQ rights at a CNN/Human Rights Campaign town hall on Thursday evening.

The forum touched on a number of issues of interest to the LGBTQ community, including the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act to block discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

A number of Democratic presidential contenders have pledged to push Congress to pass the legislation, which the House approved in May. Candidates underscored that push during the forum Thursday night, dubbed, “Equality in America.”

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“I’m going to be blunt; we’ve got to have some more Democrats in the Senate,” said Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDebate over ICBMs: Will 'defund our defenses' be next? Manchin on collision course with Warren, Sanders Hillicon Valley: Broadband companies funded fake net neutrality comments, investigation finds | Twitter rolls out tip feature | Google to adopt 'hybrid work week' MORE (D-Mass.), emphasizing the importance of a Democratic majority to pass the legislation. Warren has risen near the top of the crowded primary field in recent polls.

“I say that for two reasons, partly because the Democratic Party has made it clear, this is an issue, this is a priority for us. We believe that equal means equal everywhere. I also say it because I want our Republican friends to hear that in the United States Senate. I want them to know that people vote based on LGBTQ issues.”

The debate also comes as the Supreme Court is split over whether gay and transgender people are protected under federal workplace discrimination laws after hearing oral arguments in a number of cases on the matter.

"[I] stand in solidarity with all of the folks who are fighting for equality in those three cases. And I, like many people here, sat in that United States Supreme Court during the arguments where I refused to defend Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages in California," said Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris says Mexico, US can work together to improve quality of life in Northern Triangle Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms says 'it is time to pass the baton on to someone else' Harris's uncle discusses COVID-19 surge in India: 'The conditions are pretty bad' MORE (D-Calif.), another candidate at the forum.

"So I know all too well what happens in the United States Supreme Court and what must happen in terms of fighting for equality. We did it before. As president, I will do it again," she added. 

Candidates also addressed the recent surge in violence against members of the LGBTQ community, in particular against trans women of color.

Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerBush testifies before Congress about racist treatment Black birthing people face during childbirth, pregnancy Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Never underestimate Joe Biden MORE (D-N.J.) called the violence a "national emergency" and, citing his proposed “Office on Hate Crimes and White Supremacy,” pledged to appoint a secretary of Education who he said would work to protect all children.

Protesters later interrupted the forum shortly after South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete Buttigieg'Funky Academic:' Public has been 'groomed to measure progress by firsts' Biden administration in talks with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti for India ambassador post: reports Business groups target moderate Democrats on Biden tax plans MORE, who is openly gay, took the stage to draw attention to recent murders of trans individuals.

"I do want to acknowledge what these demonstrators were speaking about, which is the epidemic of violence against black trans women in this country right now," he said.

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The presidential hopefuls were also pressed about how they would combat HIV/AIDS under their health care proposals.

“We have to make sure that there is no ability for hospitals and/or any health care provider to discriminate based upon whether or not you have HIV or whether or not you are gay or lesbian or transgender,” said former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit On The Money: Five takeaways on a surprisingly poor jobs report | GOP targets jobless aid after lackluster April gain MORE.

Harris honed in on the racial disparities in treating HIV/AIDS, and vowed to “pay attention to who has access, who has the ability, who has the resources to benefit from all that is available to prevent, right, or to mitigate the effects.”

A number of candidates slammed the Trump administration's policies on Thursday night, hours after releasing their plans ahead of the forum aimed at promoting LGBTQ equality.

Buttigieg specifically criticized the Trump administration’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military and accused President TrumpDonald TrumpDemocrats, activists blast reported Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE of threatening trans service members’ lives.

"The transgender military ban is an outrage against the willingness of service members to put their lives on the line for this country and they are having their lives threatened by a president who refused to serve when it was his turn,” Buttigieg said.

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) also made news after he declared that religious institutions should lose tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

"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,” O’Rourke said.

However, Booker declined to give a yes or no answer when pressed on the issue earlier in the town hall.

“I’m not saying, because I know this is a long legal battle. I’m not dodging your question. I’m saying I believe fundamentally that discrimination is discrimination,” Booker said.

Other candidates that participated in the town hall included Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharStrengthen CBP regulations to reduce opioid deaths Why isn't Washington defending American companies from foreign assaults? Republicans float support for antitrust reform after Trump Facebook ban upheld MORE (D-Minn.), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and businessman Tom SteyerTom SteyerTop 12 political donors accounted for almost 1 of every 13 dollars raised since 2009: study California Democrats weigh their recall options Why we should be leery of companies entering political fray MORE.