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Democratic 2020 hopefuls tout their pride at Iowa LGBTQ forum

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Ten Democratic presidential candidates gathered at Coe College on Friday night to make their pitches to LGBTQ voters in the nation’s first caucus state. Candidates were largely united on passing the Equality Act, addressing violence against transgender women, and undoing president Trump’s ban on transgender military service.

The LGBTQ Presidential Forum was the first such forum since 2007. The candidates spoke in tight, ten minute segments. Here’s a rundown of what each had to say.

Marianne Williamson

First on stage was Marianne Williamson, a candidate who has struggled to register in opinion polls.

The Advocate’s editor-in-chief Zach Stafford quizzed Williamson about her writing that “love” can heal sickness, such as AIDS. “I believed that with love for each other, we could get through it,” Williamson said of her sister’s fight with cancer.

Williamson said as president she would “speak very loudly” about the Equality Act, a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act, banning conversion therapy, and would advocate for repealing the ban on transgender people serving in the military.

She said that while some believe diversity is like “an incredible garden,” a “panoply of diversity,” others disagree — sometimes violently. “Some people find that entire idea as psychically annihilating to their identity,” Williamson said, noting that LGBTQ opponents are politically active and do vote. “You make me president, I’ll have your back,” Williamson said.

Joe Sestak

Second up for the night was Joe Sestak, another long-shot candidate who has struggled to register in opinion polls. Sestak was quizzed by Keenan Crow, director of Iowa LGBTQ advocacy group One Iowa. Sestak touted his experience as a navy officer who was “deeply opposed to the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy from the time of its inception.”

Sestak spoke about how sailors on aircraft carriers “didn’t care” about the gay servicemembers, whose surreptitious service under “don’t ask, don’t tell” was widely known by their peers. He was quizzed in detail about how he would undo Trump’s transgender military ban. “What you need to do is have those types of mandated reports that they do have,” he said, “and then hold the admirals and generals to task.”

“You really must inspect, and when you have the result, go back and hold the military accountable” if there is still discrimination against transgender service members, Sestak said.



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