7 Questions LGBTQ People Have for the 2020 Presidential Candidates

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October 10, 2019

Last Updated: 1/14/20

As the 2020 election approaches, all eyes are on D.C. (and sometimes on Twitter). And whether it is one of the 12 Democrats still in the race, or the two Republicans challenging President Trump for the nomination, the candidates have an obligation to tell the voting public where they stand.

While the LGBTQ rights movement has made significant progress over the past decade, it is no secret that that progress has been stalled – and, in many cases, gutted – since January 20, 2017, with attacks on everyone from young people and families to LGBTQ workers and trans and HIV+ people serving in the military; with attempted rollbacks in protections against discrimination in education, health care, and employment; with rhetoric that emboldens those who wish to do us harm; and with lifetime appointments of virulently anti-LGBTQ federal judges – just to name a few.

There are many issues and questions our communities need answers to. Here are just seven of the most pressing.

Do you support Congress passing the Equality Act?

This week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in three cases about whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination because of sex, protects LGBTQ people from being fired because of who we are and who we love.

But regardless of how the Supreme Court rules in these important cases, we need the Equality Act, and every candidate should know why. The Equality Act is bipartisan legislation that will make clear that federal laws already prohibiting sex discrimination – including Title VII – also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, education, and credit. It will also expand coverage in two key areas: the law preventing federal funding from subsidizing discrimination, and the public accommodations law, which would forbid discrimination in restaurants, hotels and motels, retail stores, professional services and banks, and transportation services including trains, taxis, and airlines.

The House passed the bill back in May, and awaits action in the Senate. We need a President who will work with Congress to get it on their desk to sign, and who has the strength to resist calls to dilute the law’s important protections against discrimination.

How do you intend to protect young LGBTQ people from abuse and discrimination?

One of the first actions from the Trump/Pence administration was rescinding guidance issued during the Obama administration that clarified the rights of transgender students in schools.

And earlier this year, the Trump/Pence administration gave taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies in South Carolina a waiver from federal nondiscrimination regulations, which allowed them to put their religious beliefs about LGBTQ people ahead of the wellbeing of children. While Lambda Legal has sued over what has happened in South Carolina (among other actions), the fact remains that efforts to prevent LGBTQ parents from fostering or adopting have disadvantaged the 443,000 young people in foster care (20% of whom are LGBTQ, disproportionately higher than the 5-7% in the general population) who need the loving homes that those parents could provide. Each year, 20,000 children age out of the system without a permanent family. There is no reason to make it more difficult for them to have one.

We need a President who understands why we need laws like the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, and that taxpayer dollars should never be used to deny children loving homes based on an organization’s particular religious beliefs.

We also need a President who will commit to combating attempts to erase LGBTQ people from the school curriculum, who will use their leverage to ensure that schools are employing teachers who treat all students with the respect and dignity they deserve, and who recognize that conversion therapy is an unethical and dangerous practice.

How will you address the epidemic of violence against LGBTQ people, particularly trans women of color?

At least 18 transgender women of color have been murdered just this year, and hate crimes against LGBTQ people have been on the rise over the past three years (according to the FBI’s own data), with gender identity-related hate crimes growing at an alarming rate. This violence is rooted in not only transphobia, but also in misogyny and racism, and must be treated as both a moral crisis and a criminal justice issue.

Only 19 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have hate crime laws that include gender identity as a protected status. And as a group, transgender people face widespread discrimination in virtually every area of life – education, employment, housing – making them particularly susceptible to poverty and violence both within and outside of the criminal justice system. The effects of discrimination are magnified further for transgender women of color, who face the threat of violence not only at the hands of civilians, but also law enforcement. Police frequently target trans women of color for perfectly legal activities — such as walking down the street or carrying condoms — as evidence of criminal activity.

Murders of trans people are also largely underreported, as a result of rampant misgendering in police reports and the media. The numbers we see likely reflect only a fraction of the truth.

We need a President who will demonstrate that they are prepared to use all the tools at their disposal to stem the tide of violence against our community, and will play a leadership role in creating accountability at the state and local level, where many of these crimes are prosecuted (or not, as is often the case). This means making resources available to support criminal investigations and improve hate crimes reporting. As importantly, there needs to be a comprehensive understanding that vulnerability to violence is often the result of family rejection, economic insecurity, systemic racism, and a lack of police accountability. And in particular, there must be a commitment to providing resources to people facing poverty, homelessness, and a lack of economic opportunity due to systemic discrimination.

Do you understand why it is essential for LGBTQI people to have the ability to obtain passports, birth certificates, and other identity documents that accurately reflect who they are?

After a victory in Kansas earlier this year, all but two states (Tennessee and Ohio) allow transgender people to amend their birth certificates. And just last month, a federal district court judge in the latter brought us one step closer to taking down the arcane rules prohibiting those born in the Buckeye State from correcting their birth certificates. Policies like Ohio’s inflict daily harm by forcing people to use documents that out them as trans, which often puts them at risk of discrimination, harassment, and even physical violence.

In 2015, Lambda Legal filed suit against the federal government on behalf of Dana Zzyym, an intersex citizen who was denied a passport because they could not accurately choose either male or female (the only available options) on the application form. In 2016, a judge ordered the State Department to reconsider its decision. It didn’t. So in 2018, a judge again found that the State Department violated federal law in denying Dana an accurate passport. Earlier this year, after the opposition attempted to stay the decision, we filed a brief at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals urging it to uphold the lower court ruling. Dana still does not have an accurate passport.

As more states offer a third gender marker option (X) on driver’s licenses, it is important that our next President understands why this issue matters, and places a premium on defending the dignity and worth of every person in this country.

Will you stem the flow of dangerous anti-LGBTQ judges being packed onto federal courts across the country?

The President has the sole power of appointing judges to sit on federal benches across the country. And federal judges, once confirmed, sit on the bench for life (or until they choose to retire). These are the same judges who preside over lawsuits challenging discrimination against LGBTQ people and people living with HIV.

Since taking office, President Trump has confirmed new judges at alarming speed, thanks, in part, to the enabling of Mitch McConnell and Senate leadership. Over one in three of President Trump's circuit court nominees have a demonstrated anti-LGBTQ bias, and now five of the nation's 12 circuit courts are composed of over 25% of these judges. You do the math for what that means.

We need a President who will commit to appointing judges (and did we mention they are there for life?) who believe in the notion of “equal justice under law,” and who can credibly demonstrate that they will treat LGBTQ people and everyone living with HIV as full and equal citizens entitled to liberty, justice, dignity, and equality.

Do you think health care providers should be able to assert religious or moral objections and turn away LGBTQ and HIV+ people?

Since the Trump/Pence administration took office, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced the creation of a new unit within the HHS Office of Civil Rights (OCR) called the “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division,” issued a Denial-of-Care Rule that invites health care workers and facilities to impose their religious beliefs on patients (arbitrarily deciding who receives care and who doesn’t), and proposed to gut the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination protections. Each of these actions will almost certainly result in the unconstitutional denial of medical care and cause potentially life-threatening harm to patients, in particular to LGBTQ people, people living with HIV, and women.

Religiously-motivated discrimination and bias in accessing health care looks like Lupita Benitez, a lesbian from California who was denied infertility treatment at a women’s health clinic. It looks like Jonathan Shuffield, a gay man from Washington whose doctor refused to write him a medical prescription. And it looks like Jionni Conforti, a transgender man from New Jersey whose hospital refused to allow his surgeon to perform a routine hysterectomy.

We need a President who understands the importance of being able to obtain medical care without fear of discrimination, and who will advocate for equal treatment in health care for all.

Will you commit to reversing this administration’s ban on military service for transgender people and people living with HIV?

On July 26, 2017, President Trump tweeted out his notorious “policy” banning transgender people from serving in the military. And last year, his administration discharged two Airmen living with HIV just before the holidays. This is nothing less than a slap in the face to those who wish to serve in our nation’s military, which also happens to be the country’s largest employer.

Thousands of current servicemembers are transgender, and many have been serving openly and successfully for years. There are also many trans people who are qualified to serve, and who would gladly do so but for this irrational ban. The government-commissioned RAND study from 2016 determined that the cost of providing transition-related care is exceedingly small relative to overall health care expenditures; that there are no readiness implications that prevent transgender members from serving openly; and that numerous foreign militaries have successfully permitted open service without a negative effect on effectiveness, readiness, or unit cohesion. While multiple lawsuits are working their way through the courts, our next Commander in Chief can, and should, correct this egregious error, and take the necessary steps to swiftly implement a new policy that welcomes the military service of trans people.

Likewise, servicemembers living with HIV deserve a Commander in Chief who will direct the Pentagon to develop policies that adhere to modern day science, rather than pander to outdated fears and stereotypes. As acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, HIV is a medical condition that can be managed through drug protocols that allow people to live long and healthy lives, and that are readily available, simple, and easy to tolerate. Likewise, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has gone on record that, with proper treatment, a person living with HIV could suppress their viral load to undetectable levels, which results in effectively no risk of transmission. Nevertheless, despite current science and medical advancements, most servicemembers living with HIV remain classified as non-deployable under military policies developed in the 1990s. And as a result of changes made by this administration, being deemed “non-deployable” has now put servicemembers living with HIV at risk of discharge from the military altogether. Just days before last Thanksgiving (in 2018), multiple servicemembers were found “unfit for continued military service” and received letters rejecting their attempts to fight discharge despite compliance with fitness assessments and medical treatment, as well as strong support from commanding officers. We have multiple pending lawsuits addressing this discrimination.

We need a President who will put science ahead of stigma, will commit to resolving these issues cleanly and quickly without need for further litigation, and will respect all people who are willing to risk their lives for this country by treating them with dignity.