September 10, 2019 at 8:22 pm EST | by Peter Rosenstein
HRC’s LGBT Town Hall: Is it good for Democrats?
Power of Our Pride Town Hall, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Human Rights Campaign has been touting its LGBTQ+ focused Town Hall calling it ‘Power of Our Pride’ taking place on Thursday, Oct. 10 in Los Angeles. CNN will air it live.

Reading their press releases and website it would seem the goal is to generate more votes and have Democratic candidates clarify their stand on equality. HRC wants to know “how they plan to win full federal equality, defend the fundamental equality of LGBTQ people, and protect the most vulnerable among us — both here in the United States and around the globe — from stigma, institutional inequality, discrimination, and violence?” HRC goes on to say “These issues are of crucial importance to LGBTQ voters and allies. Today, there are an estimated minimum of 10 million LGBTQ voters nationwide — along with millions of parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, and allies — who will play a decisive role in the 2020 election. Since 2016, HRC has identified more than 57 million “Equality Voters” nationwide who prioritize LGBTQ-inclusive policies, including marriage equality, equitable family law, and laws that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Clearly valuable goals. I assume the largest segment of the audience will be members of the LGBTQ+ community. One key issue that must arise in any discussion of the Equality Act, and one that could separate the candidates, is also one that could play out both ways in the general election if LGBTQ+ issues become a lightning rod in the election. That is the issue of religious exemption. When the Equality Act was introduced there were many comments made on both sides of this issue with these examples reported: “If it passes, religiously affiliated schools and other faith-based organizations could face lawsuits over policies on gay, lesbian or transgender students, customers or employees. There would be an effort to punitively sue them into oblivion and they would not be able to use (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) in their defense,” said Tim Schultz, president of 1st Amendment Partnership, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes religious freedom protections.

On the other side, Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance said, “Some people of faith see limiting the scope of religious freedom law as a good thing. Claiming a religious right to discriminate is the antithesis of genuine faith commitments and moral teaching.”

Today we have the first openly gay married candidate running for president. I believe this is a great thing for the LGBTQ+ community and have hosted a fundraiser for Mayor Pete in D.C. and offered to do a second one in Rehoboth Beach. Yet despite all the money he is raising we are seeing he is struggling with African-American and Latino voters polling at less than 1 percent with them and they are crucial not only to winning a primary but to Democrats winning in 2020. While 86 percent of Democrats say they would consider voting for a gay president even they, or at least 49 percent of them, said they don’t think the country is ready for a gay president.

So my question is what will the Town Hall focused on the positions of Democratic candidates on LGBTQ+ rights do for the eventual nominee in the general election? Will the Town Hall generate more voters and support for LGBTQ+ equality from those who don’t support it now or just try to solidify votes from those who now support it?

That will be answered by what those 57 million voters HRC says are now prioritizing these issues actually mean by that. Is this their number one issue? How many of those “equality voters” want some form of religious exemption written into the Equality Act?

HRC on its website is suggesting the Town Hall will have a large audience. They are projecting this based on the audience CNN’s July Democratic Debate drew, which was 10.7 million. That was down more than 40 percent from the first debate. The recent Climate Town Hall on CNN drew only 1.1 million viewers. We will find out on Thursday, Sept. 12 what the interest in the next Democratic debate is being held on one night.

As of this time only six candidates have confirmed their participation in what HRC calls an historic event: former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. According to the HRC website they are using the DNC criteria for participation in the debate and then candidates must opt in. So we will see if even all eligible candidates do.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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