Moderators failed to ask a single question about LGBTQ issues during the fifth Democratic presidential primary debate in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 20. This continues the pattern of Democratic debate moderators failing to generate substantive discussion about LGBTQ issues among 2020 candidates at a time when the rights of LGBTQ people are under attack by the Trump-Pence administration.
Meaningful discussion of the issues facing the LGBTQ community has been largely absent in this year’s presidential primary debates. This election’s Democratic debate moderators -- three of whom are openly LGBTQ -- have asked the candidates more than 700 questions over the last five debates, but only one was related to LGBTQ issues, and it was posed to only one candidate.
Though 2019 has seen two groundbreaking presidential primary events dedicated to LGBTQ issues, the September 20 LGBTQ Presidential Forum and the October 10 CNN LGBTQ Town Hall, LGBTQ issues deserve the high viewership and comparative analysis of the candidates' positions that is only possible with a full debate.
Debate moderators’ failure reflects a wider problem in TV news coverage of LGBTQ issues
Cable and broadcast news have often failed to adequately report on issues facing the LGBTQ community at a time when the Trump-Pence administration has led a crusade to roll back federal protections for LGBTQ people in housing, health care, education, and employment. However, CNN’s LGBTQ Town Hall demonstrated that major TV news has the capacity and ability to meaningfully cover LGBTQ issues. Whether those issues will be raised on a national debate stage remains to be seen.
The sixth democratic debate will be hosted by PBS and Politico on December 19 in Los Angeles. Moderators will have an opportunity to correct the past debates’ failure by asking candidates meaningful questions about how they will fight for LGBTQ equality and about their plans to advocate for LGBTQ people.
In counting the number of questions asked by debate moderators, Media Matters included invitations to candidates to make 30-second responses. We did not include invitations to make closing statements. We also did not include interjections and clarifications from the moderators unless they were interjections to allow a different candidate to speak. Follow-up questions to the same candidate on the same topic were counted as separate questions.