Ten democratic presidential candidates gathered in Sinclair Auditorium last Friday, September 10, to discuss the issues important to the LGBTQ community at the LGBTQ Presidential Forum hosted by GLAAD, the Advocate, One Iowa and the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Sestak, Elizabeth Warren, and Marianne Williamson participated. The candidates shared their visions to improve the lives of the LGBTQ community, discussing the Trump administration’s transgender military ban, the Equality Act, violence against transgender men and women, and conversion therapy among others.
“This was about making sure that they [the candidates] understand the challenges that face LGBTQ people in 2020,” said Zeke Stokes, GLAAD Chief Programs Officer. “That they understand the damage that the Trump administration has done to our community, and prioritize reversing that damage in the first 100 days.”
The forum, hosted by transgender actress and activist Angelica Ross, was the first of its kind for this election cycle and the first LGBTQ forum since 2007. It brought over 700 people to Coe College.
Some who attended the event suggested that, in order to end discrimination towards those that identify as LGBTQ, they must begin with changing people’s attitude towards the community.
“I think that the main thing that we can do to minimize gender discrimination in America is to change the mindset of people,” stated Alisha Budhwani (22’). “Specifically those that are against any kind of change to society. I know that it is easier said than done but I feel like that is something that we can do as a community, whether it be through college or anything.”
Organizers also emphasize on the need to get LGBTQ+ people to certain offices of power to influence the people and make sure that the people dedicate their energy for the right cause.
“To make the country more inclusive, I think we need to get queer people in general to start running for the spaces to take over, so that means – supporting your local queer activists that are involved,” said Nicholas Schnerre, who traveled from Des Moines to attend the forum.
A lot of talk at the forum was reserved for policies, but many candidates also talked about changing the current environment of hate and prejudice, and many attendees agreed.
“Ending discrimination of the LGBTQ community starts first with ending the countless harmful stigmas against LGBTQ people,” said Kayden Dangremond (21’). “Aside from the obvious changes that the next president ideally makes on the repealing of the transgender military ban and signing the Equality Act, I’m very hopeful to see a change in how LGBTQ people are treated in medicine. A new and open minded leader could do wonders in pushing for universal healthcare to help with PrEP costs, reassignment surgeries, and changing the biases in blood donation.”
For many presidential candidates, this was an occasion to appeal to all the LGBTQ voters in Iowa and in the country.
“Iowa is gonna be a major gateway to the nomination,” said Stokes concerning their decision to have the forum in Cedar Rapids. “There’s 87,000 LGBTQ adults in Iowa and I imagine every candidate on that stage would want those 87,000 to caucus for them next year. [Iowa] is going to be the place that sends some people along the campaign trail and sends some people home.”
The location of the forum held a particular significance in the 2020 race, but also for Coe College. The forum represented a unique opportunity for Kohawks to get engaged in politics and to see in person several presidential candidates.
“Most students on our campus community had the opportunity to hear directly from candidates, which is very unusual,” said President David McInally. “It’s distinctive because this is one of the first forums to focus on LGBTQ issues and it happened here at Coe.”
Special guests at the forum included Queer Eye star Karamo Brown and Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Despite the fact that all democratic candidates were invited to participate, some did not show up. Noticeable absences were Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders, that received a lot of heat from Ross.
“Ask them: why ain’t you here?,” said Ross, inviting the audience to hold their candidates accountable.
“I think they missed a good opportunity, but I suspect they had legitimate scheduling conflicts,” said Stokes. “It was a missed opportunity to talk for an extended period in a way that they hadn’t had the opportunity to talk in debates.”
“Honestly, [it’s] a little bit disappointing,” said Aime Wichtendahl, honorary co-chair of the event. “[I] would have preferred that we would have got to have seen from Senator Sanders especially as he is one of the main frontrunners, he could have made the effort to have been here rather than just send his people out.”
In 2019, when the LGBTQ community is targeted everywhere and suffers discrimination and hate crimes, an event like the LGBTQ forum brings some hope about what is to come according to organizers and attendees.
“I think this forum was a wonderful night for Coe and for Cedar Rapids and that it is long past time that we get presidential candidates to engage specifically with LGBTQ issues,” said McInally. “I’m glad that it happened here.”