October 4, 2019 at 5:11 pm EDT | by Karen Ocamb
Who can defeat Trump? Preview of HRC/CNN town hall
HRC Town Hall, gay news, Washington Blade
This week’s Los Angeles Blade cover

To paraphrase Oda Mae Brown in “Ghost,” democracy, you in danger, girl.

This profound and dreadful moment in American history is worse than Watergate and far worse than the House impeachment of President Bill Clinton for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky because President Donald Trump has undermined public confidence in the very institutions of American democracy in his unquenchable thirst for unrestricted and unquestioned power.

But a Democratically controlled House impeachment inquiry into Trump’s behavior and fitness for office does not mean the Republican controlled Senate will convict and vote to remove him from office. Trump has admitted to stopping congressionally authorized money to Ukraine to purchase weapons in their desperate war against Russia, which has already militarily annexed Crimea. That was before Trump called the president of the Ukraine and asked him, as a favor, to re-investigate his chief 2020 election rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. An earlier investigation into the Bidens found no illegality, nothing untoward.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr also appear to have been caught up in this presidential abuse of power, as well as apparently trying to find evidence to support a right-wing conspiracy theory exonerating Russia from interfering in the 2016 elections.

Twice on Oct. 2 Trump publicly ranted about his critics, insisting the impeachment inquiry is a “hoax” and a Democratic “coup” and dangerously targeting Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, saying Schiff should be arrested for treason. Schiff and other favorite Trump targets such as Rep. Maxine Waters have reported receiving death threats since 2017.

Former CIA Director John Brennan has slammed Trump for not caring about protecting the security of the nation’s elections. On Oct. 2, Brennan tweeted: “Press conference with Finnish President shows @realDonaldTrump is a national disgrace who deserves impeachment, conviction, & ouster from office. Republicans in Congress must abandon him now if they care about our country & have any hope of salvaging a political future for GOP.”

In an interview with MSNBC while attending a March For Our Lives/Giffords Democratic presidential candidates forum on gun safety in Las Vegas, out South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg addressed Trump’s latest rants.

“The simple fact is that these rantings are not the words of the leader of a democracy. When you are being criticized, let alone when you are being called out for wrongdoing, responding by describing somebody who is calling you out or disagreeing as being ‘disloyal’ to the country because they’re being critical of you – this is the stuff of tinpot dictatorships, not the presidency,” Buttigieg said. “And it’s sad, not just for the president but for the presidency itself, for the country. Remember, this is the president of the United States – your life and mine depend of the wisdom and judgement of the president of the United States. And these rants are a bad sign for all of us.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had intended to participate in that gun violence forum but after an Oct. 1 event in Las Vegas the night before, he was hospitalized for treatment of chest pains that proved to be a blockage in one artery. Though the campaign said he was “feeling good” the next day, all appearances were cancelled “until further notice,” raising questions about whether he could or should attend the LGBTQ HRC/CNN Democratic presidential town hall on Oct 10.

The “2020 Gun Safety Forum” was held the day after the second anniversary of America’s deadliest mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival that left nearly 60 people dead. It is another in a series of “issue-themed” forums and town halls sponsored by activists and hosted by media outlets dealing with race, climate change and pay equity.

The LGBTQ town hall will be held on the eve of a significant LGBTQ historic milestone—the 31st anniversary of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11 That day was selected to commemorate the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

“This town hall comes at a critical time in our fight to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in this nation,” said HRC President Alphonso David said in a press release. “Today, in 30 states, LGBTQ people remain at risk of being fired, evicted or denied services because of who we are. Thirty-five states have yet to ban the dangerous and debunked practice of ‘conversion therapy,’ which is harming our young people. Hate crimes are rising, and more than 100 transgender people — most of whom are transgender women of color — have been killed in the United States in the last five years.”

Despite House passage of the LGBTQ civil rights bill, the Equality Act, a top priority for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to take it up. Meanwhile despite empty promises to protect LGBTQ Americans that earned Trump a re-election endorsement from Log Cabin Republicans, the Trump administration continues to roll back much of the progress on equality made under the Obama administration.

“Although the federal government should be protecting all residents, the Trump-Pence Administration is directly attacking our community by banning transgender troops from serving our country openly, undermining health care services for people living with HIV, and seeking to erase LGBTQ people from protections under law,” said HRC’s David.

The press release announcing the partnership between HRC and CNN included some polling data to help frame the forum.

“A Gallup poll conducted in May showed that 53% of Americans believe new laws are needed to protect the LGBTQ community’s civil rights, while 46% do not. Those numbers have stayed steady since the Gallup last asked the question in 2017,” the press release said. “The latest poll showed that 63% of Americans support legal same-sex marriage; that has risen substantially since 1999, when only 35% of Americans backed it.”

Polls showing public support or lack thereof are often taken into consideration when elected officials and politicians make policy decisions. Public opinion also impacts reaction to Supreme Court decisions. Strong religious conservatives, for instance, still think Roe v Wade, which gave individual women autonomy over their own bodies and reproductive health instead of the government or their husbands, was wrongly decided or decided too soon for the public to accept. Brown v Board of Education decided in 1954 that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional, but institutional racism still flourishes.

Though the Supreme Court ruled positively in granting marriage equality to same-sex couples, actually being equal is a different thing. Two days before the HRC/CNN forum, on Oct. 8, the high court will hear three cases about LGBTQ employment discrimination that “will determine if federal law protects LGBTQ people,” writes Freedom For All Americans Chief Counsel Jon Davidson. “These are the most important cases in LGBTQ history since we won marriage equality. But, even if we win them, we still will need Congress to finish the job by passing the Equality Act, which would ensure express and enduring nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.”

It will be no surprise that the CNN moderators and invited guest questioners will ask Biden, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Buttigieg and businessman Tom Steyer if they support and will sign the Equality Act. Nor will it be a surprise to hear them say they will end AIDS in our lifetime, reinstate trans military service, and stand up for the rights of LGBTQ people.

But the donkey in the room is whether or not any of the candidates—including gay Mayor Pete—fully grasp that LGBTQ people are officially second-class citizens, officially subhuman—including white rich privileged gay men who think discrimination doesn’t affect them, until they are beaten up by some white supremacist who doesn’t care about their privilege. It’s worse, of course, for LGBTQ folks who are also a racial minority or an immigrant or disabled.

Will CNN and the candidates treat LGBTQ people as if we are just another “issue” like climate change and gun violence?

Here’s an illustration, substituting “Black” for “LGBTQ” in the paragraph about polls. “A Gallup poll conducted in May showed that 53% of Americans believe new laws are needed to protect the BLACK community’s civil rights, while 46% do not. Those numbers have stayed steady since the Gallup last asked the question in 2017.”

Should LGBTQ civil rights be left up to how the majority feels about “the other,” the minority? That’s not far-fetched, as LGBTQ Californians know. On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality after a four-year series of legal battles.

That November, the anti-gay marriage Prop 8 initiative passed and suddenly what the state high court deemed was a “fundamental constitutional right” was stripped away from same-sex couples by the majority of California voters, though marriages between June and November were not voided and domestic partnerships remained, thus creating another discriminatory and painful two-tier status.

When challenged, the California Supreme Court subsequently said the will of the people through the state’s initiative process superseded the rights of individual gays and lesbians who are not officially protected under federal law.

So — when scrutinizing the Democratic candidates to see how they respond to specific questions — some expected to be crafted specifically for them such as Harris and Warren on the rights of transgender prisoners to have medical coverage for transition and other health, wellness and safety needs—consider also whether that candidate would not only stand up to Trump but stand up against a backlash when taking an unpopular position in the polls but one that is morally and constitutionally pro-LGBTQ equality.

Additionally, also consider if, as an LGBTQ voter, there is a certain responsibility to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. For instance, National Coming Out Day was conceived during the 1987 March on Washington when activists and regular people around the world came to the nation’s capitol to plead for help for people dying of AIDS. Many in the march that day were in wheelchairs or using the buddy system to hold on for one more day.

Now the community crisis is visibly hitting the trans community, especially trans women of color who are still seeking their voices and rights without being killed. And the LGBTQ issue of identity will only get more intense. According to a new survey by The Trevor Project, more than 1 in 5 LGBTQ youth in the United States identify as a sexual orientation other than gay, lesbian or bisexual.

How would the candidates protect non-binary individuals who refuse to be categorized by the government according to some pre-ordained, easy to count square box on a form?

Who decides what is culturally competent in each of the administration’s departments?

More than likely, the Democratic candidates showing up for the HRC/CNN town hall are there for more than chits at the LGBTQ ATM in SoCal. Looking at how Cory Booker affectionately hugged and lifted The Advocate’s Zach Stafford at the LGBTQ Iowa forum, for instance, one can tell he feels very much at ease with LGBTQ people. Same with Kamala Harris and of course, Pete Buttigieg. Julian Castro and Beto O’Rourke’s youth and Elizabeth Warren’s teacher’s core suggest they, too, are comfortable with LGBTQ people without having to think about it.

But for Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer, there’s a sense they very consciously evolved. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But with even the hint of “otherness” in the back of the brain as an “issue” and not thinking of LGBTQ people as flesh and blood human beings, LGBTQ people can be invisible, ignored, left out of a conversation, policy decision, left behind – even with a “we’ll come get you, we promise.” Trans folk and people of color have heard that one before ,even within the LGBTQ community.

But, with assumed promises made to be included in policies, the most significant question LGBTQ voters must ask themselves is: who can defeat Donald Trump? Or even who can defeat Mike Pence, if Trump is impeached and Pence survives?

Which candidates, if any, will use Trump’s hypocrisy and Pence’s religious cruelty toward LGBTQ people as part of their campaign to win the presidency? And how will they do it?

“I look at the field of candidates and I can’t imagine a more qualified, electable, decent candidate than Joe Biden,” Michael Lombardo tells the Los Angeles Blade. “I’m sure there are others there but in terms of my experience, I have utmost faith in him and I hope he gets the nomination. And I hope he wins.”

Lombardo’s experience is having Biden meet his children with Sonny Ward, Johnny and Josie Ward-Lombardo, in 2012, where then-HRC President Chad Griffin asked Biden about his personal views on same-sex marriage and Biden “went over his skis,” to the surprise of the Obama administration.

That same year, 2012, gay Republican political consultant and activist Fred Karger became the first LGBTQ person to seriously throw money, time and talent into running for president, hoping to square off against Mitt Romney in a debate. Now he’s backing Pete Buttigieg.

“It was a tremendous honor to endorse Pete Buttigieg for president after meeting with him in Brooklyn in February of this year. He is so smart, thoughtful, reasoned and has the innate ability to get along with people on both sides of the aisle,” Karger tells the Los Angeles Blade.

“Pete’s candidacy shows just how far this country has come that an openly gay married man can raise the most money of all the Democratic candidates and be embraced by millions and millions of Americans. He has more centrist positions on many issues making him an ideal candidate to take on Donald Trump and win. While I am still a member of the Republican Party (barely), l see Pete’s election as our 46th president as the absolute best way to bring our divided nation back together.”

But if Trump succeeds in ensnaring Biden in the muck and mire of the Ukraine scandal and if click-bait seeking pollsters ask if the public really wants to elect a gay man as president, could they defeat Trump?

And if not the front runner and the smartest, then who?

LGBTQ voters have an opportunity and a responsibility to seriously consider all the ramifications because, as Buttigieg said: “Remember, this is the president of the United States – your life and mine depend of the wisdom and judgement of the president of the United States. And these rants are a bad sign for all of us.”

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