Update (10/23/20): On October 22, NBC’s Kristen Welker asked 102 questions at the final 2020 presidential debate, and none of them were about LGBTQ issues. In the past 12 years, presidential and vice presidential debate moderators have asked candidates over 700 questions.
The last time moderators asked a candidate about LGBTQ issues during a presidential or vice presidential debate was in 2008, when a vice presidential debate featured a series of three questions about same-sex marriage. There have been more than 600 questions across 14 debates since the 2008 election cycle, but not one outside of that debate has been about LGBTQ issues.
On October 22, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker will moderate the final presidential debate of the 2020 election, which includes "American Families” as a topic.
The Trump-Pence administration has systematically rolled back rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans, and trans people are experiencing an epidemic of violence. As such, it is crucial that Welker ask President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden about issues facing the community. There are a wealth of topics Welker can address with the candidates, including how the Supreme Court and lower courts will impact LGBTQ Americans, whether we should pass comprehensive nondiscrimination protections through the Equality Act, and how we can ensure that LGBTQ people, and particularly trans people, have access to necessary, life-saving health care.
The last time a moderator asked about LGBTQ issues was during the 2008 vice presidential debate
General election debate moderators have not addressed LGBTQ issues since the 2008 vice presidential debate between Biden and former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. The late Gwen Ifill asked the candidates a series of three questions on whether they support “granting same-sex benefits to couples” or same-sex marriage.
At the time, Biden said he supported equal benefits for same-sex couples but not same-sex marriage. Biden notably endorsed same-sex marriage during a 2012 appearance on Meet the Press, which has been described as a watershed moment in the fight for equal marriage.
This was the last time a debate moderator challenged candidates to a meaningful discussion about issues specific to LGBTQ people, despite momentous shifts in the LGBTQ community’s rights and public acceptance of them over the past 12 years. From the 2008 election until now, there have been 10 presidential debates and four vice presidential debates where candidates were asked a total of over 600 questions, but no others were about LGBTQ issues.
Thursday’s debate is the last opportunity for LGBTQ issues to take center stage during the presidential election
Since 2008, the movement for LGBTQ rights has experienced both historic advances and unprecedented attacks. During this time, same-sex marriage became a nationwide right, LGBTQ employees were legally assured protections from discrimination in the workplace, and 20 states banned the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy.
During the last four years in particular, conservative advocates met that progress with a renewed fight against LGBTQ rights. The Trump-Pence administration has worked to roll back federal LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections across agencies, and Republican state legislators have fought to ban trans people from accessing needed health care, using public facilities, and updating their identity documents.
LGBTQ issues have largely been ignored during debates in the 2020 presidential election cycle. There were two questions about LGBTQ issues during Biden’s November 14 presidential town hall, and only three out of 1,208 total questions at the Democratic primary debates were about LGBTQ issues. Ahead of the 2020 vice presidential debate, a coalition of LGBTQ advocacy organizations sent a letter to moderator Susan Page urging her to address the topic. She ignored their call to action.
The LGBTQ community represents a critical voting bloc, and their rights deserve attention at the debates. It is incumbent upon Welker to press candidates on how they plan to address LGBTQ issues in the coming term.
In counting the number of questions asked by presidential debate moderators, Media Matters included invitations to candidates to make responses. We did not include invitations to make opening or closing statements. We also did not include interjections or 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.