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 Ann WarrenNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Bloomberg, Patrick take different approaches after late entries into primary race Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne 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 Devi HarrisNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Harris gets key union endorsement amid polling plateau 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 Anthony BookerNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne Overnight Health Care: Warren promises gradual move to 'Medicare for All' | Rivals dismiss Warren plan for first 100 days | White House unveils rules on disclosing hospital prices | Planned Parenthood wins case against anti-abortion group 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 ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne 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 BidenBudget official says he didn't know why military aid was delayed: report Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide READ: Foreign service officer Jennifer Williams' closed-door testimony from the House impeachment inquiry 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 John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election 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 Jean KlobucharNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Election 2020: Why I'm watching Amy and Andy 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting MORE (D-Minn.), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and businessman Tom SteyerThomas (Tom) Fahr SteyerNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne Ocasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field MORE.