Despite the Trump-Pence administration’s anti-LGBTQ record, 2020 presidential debate moderators have ignored issues facing queer and trans people
USA Today’s Susan Page did not ask a single question about LGBTQ issues during the October 7 vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). This omission is part of a years-long pattern of presidential debate moderators failing to generate substantive discussion about LGBTQ issues among candidates.
Page asked the candidates a total of 37 questions, and since 2016, general election debate moderators have asked candidates over 250 questions -- and not one of them has been about issues specific to the LGBTQ community. And during the Democratic primary debates in 2019 and 2020, only three out of 1,208 total questions addressed LGBTQ issues.
Ahead of the vice presidential debate, a coalition of LGBTQ advocacy organizations -- including the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ Victory Fund, and Media Matters Action Network-- sent Page a letter urging her to ask candidates about LGBTQ issues. According to Yahoo News, the letter “specifically zeroed in on stances taken by Pence and the Trump administration as racist, misogynistic and transphobic, and urged both Page and the commission to press Pence on his record.”
The vice presidential debate was a particularly crucial opportunity to examine Pence’s record of opposing LGBTQ rights through decades in public office. During his 2000 campaign for Congress, he ran on an extremely anti-LGBTQ platform that called for funding to combat HIV/AIDS to be redirected to “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” According to The New York Times, that statement “has been widely interpreted as signaling his support for conversion therapy,” though Pence’s spokesperson has denied it. His platform also opposed same-sex marriage, anti-discrimination laws, and LGBTQ service in the military.
Debate moderators’ repeated failure to address LGBTQ issues is part of a broader trend among national media outlets of whitewashing the Trump-Pence administration’s anti-LGBTQ actions or failing to adequately report on them.