Among Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker’s bilingual flexes; baffling and awkward technical difficulties; and, at long last, a comprehensive discussion on reproductive rights in America, the first night of the 2020 Democratic debates also brought to stage as evocative a discussion of LGBTQ+ rights as any presidential debate in recent memory.
As Pride Month nears its conclusion, Booker was unequivocal in his support of LGBTQ+ Americans, citing the prevailing fear among LGBTQ+ children to simply attend their schools, and ongoing violence against the trans community: “We do not talk enough about trans Americans, especially African-American trans Americans and the incredibly high rates of murder right now,” he said.
Per the Human Rights Campaign, violence against transgender Americans primarily affects Black trans women. In 2019, at least 11 Black trans women have been killed: Dana Martin, Jazzaline Ware, Ashanti Carmon, Claire Legato, Muhlaysia Booker, Michelle “Tamika” Washington, Paris Cameron, Chynal Lindsey, Chanel Scurlock, Zoe Spears, and Brooklyn Lindsey. Six of those women had died within the past month.
On June 15, fellow candidate and former HUD secretary Julián Castro also highlighted the crisis affecting the trans community, tweeting about the need about the need to “act to protect and support trans women from violence,” in the wake of Spears's death; the 23-year-old was found dead on June 13.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren sent her condolences that same day, adding, “We’ll fight this, and we will continue to say their names.”
But Booker, who was the most vocal candidate of the entire evening, was alone in using his platform to highlight this issue in front of a national audience. His support didn’t go unnoticed by members and prominent advocates from the LGBTQ+ community, either.
Booker’s advocacy arrives at a crucial juncture for LGBTQ+ rights in America. In May, the Trump administration proposed a new regulation to exclude “gender identity” from protections against healthcare discrimination, a similar proposal from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that would leave the community more vulnerable to homelessness, and took an avowed stance against the Equality Act, a bill designed to prevent discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.
A number of 2020 candidates have unveiled policies and platforms dedicated to protecting LGBTQ+ rights. On May 21, Warren debuted a comprehensive plan to protect the Equality Act; she also wants to provide tax refunds for same-sex couples whose unions were not recognized by the federal government until 2015. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has also presented a LGBTQ+-focused plan, and South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg has promised to lift the Trump administration's transgender military ban. As New Now Next points out, the plans vary in their specificity, while some candidates have yet to present their policies at all.
Booker, for his part, is an original co-sponsor of the Equality Act. In the face of this ongoing crisis, however, he stressed, “It’s not enough … We need to have a president who will fight to protect LGBTQ Americans every day."