In 2016, presidential and vice presidential debate moderators did not ask candidates a single question about LGBTQ issues. Considering the systematic rollback of LGBTQ protections by the Trump-Pence administration, this year's moderators must not repeat this failure.
On September 29, Fox News anchor Chris Wallace will moderate the first presidential debate in Cleveland. He formerly hosted a 2016 presidential debate. C-SPAN's Steve Scully will moderate the October 15 debate; NBC's Kristen Welker will moderate the October 22 debate; and USA Today’s Susan Page will moderate the October 7 vice presidential debate.
Over the past four years, the Trump-Pence administration has led a crusade against the rights of LGBTQ people, particularly targeting trans people. The administration has banned trans people from serving openly in the military, sought to bar trans athletes from competing in gender-segregated sports, and rolled back federal protections for LGBTQ people in housing, health care, and education. Trump has also included anti-LGBTQ bigots across the federal government and in his campaign. What’s more, major media outlets have repeatedly failed to adequately report on Trump’s anti-LGBTQ actions.
Debate moderators must put President Donald Trump on the record about these actions and ask both candidates how they plan to address LGBTQ issues over the coming term. They must not allow Trump to spread misinformation about his anti-LGBTQ agenda, which his campaign and allies have tried to whitewash in 2020. Campaign officials, conservative allies, and right-wing media such as Fox News have campaigned on the bogus claim that “Trump is the most pro-gay president in American history,” a title Trump dubiously called “my great honor!!”
During the 11 Democratic primary debates, questions about LGBTQ issues and policy were largely absent until the sixth debate, when PBS White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor asked Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) what they would “do to stop violence against transgender people.” (In the first debate, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd had asked Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) why LGBTQ voters and their allies should trust her in light of her past anti-LGBTQ statements.)
The 2016 debate moderators failed to ask a single question about LGBTQ policy
Despite asking over 150 questions, 2016 presidential and vice presidential debate moderators did not ask candidates about LGBTQ issues.
Moderators at that time failed to mention the LGBTQ community even though there had been groundbreaking advancements in the fight for LGBTQ equality during the Obama administration, and the Republican National Committee had passed the most anti-LGBTQ platform on record. Moderators also missed the chance to question Pence’s well-documented record of opposing LGBTQ rights and Trump’s numerous statements indicating he would support anti-LGBTQ policies if elected.
Moreover, moderators could have used debates as a way to correct for misinformation pushed by journalists covering the 2016 election, who had repeatedly promoted the false narrative that Trump supported LGBTQ people.
Notably, when Fox News’ Wallace moderated the final presidential debate in 2016, it was the first time a Fox News journalist had done so, and he is the only journalist who will again moderate one during the 2020 election. Wallace is part of the network’s so-called “news” team which relentlessly spreads misinformation and works as an essential cog in its right-wing propaganda apparatus. Fox News also regularly brings on extreme anti-LGBTQ advocates and fearmongers about LGBTQ people, even claiming that they want children to be able to “consent for sexual activity.”
There is too much at stake for LGBTQ people to be ignored at the debates again
The Trump-Pence administration has been a disaster for the LGBTQ community, and their rights deserve attention at the debates. Already in this election, Republican activists are using anti-trans messaging as a wedge issue to shore up support among the conservative base ahead of the 2020 election.
Civil rights leaders have stressed the consequences of this election and the importance of LGBTQ voters. As the president of the Human Rights Campaign Alphonso David has stated, “For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies, the 2020 presidential election will be the most important election of our lives.” For trans people especially, 2020 represents an existential threat to their general safety, including their ability to access health care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two LGBTQ-focused events during the Democratic primaries -- the CNN LGBTQ Town Hall and the GLAAD LGBTQ Presidential Forum -- have provided moderators with myriad sample questions to choose from. Additionally, moderators can ask about how the upcoming confirmation fight for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat on the Supreme Court will impact LGBTQ people.
Moderators can even go beyond questioning Trump about his anti-LGBTQ record. Does he acknowledge the epidemic of violence facing Black trans women, or the harms brought about by the debunked and harmful practice of conversion therapy? Why has he fought to limit LGBTQ peoples’ access to housing and health care while they are already at an increased threat due to the coronavirus pandemic?
They can similarly press Biden on the aforementioned issues and further question how he would restore federal LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, ensure the passage of the Equality Act, and guarantee that trans youth have access to best practice, gender-affirming health care.