Democratic Presidential Candidates to Address LGBTQ Issues at UCLA Forum

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Beto O'Rourke, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg

Expect to see Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Beto O'Rourke — and probably Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg — when L.A. hosts the discussion on Oct. 10.

As Beto O'Rourke throws his hat into an already crowded field — and picks up $6.1 million in donations in the first 24 hours — Democratic debate season draws ever closer.

And Los Angeles will play host for at least one of those showdowns when UCLA and the Human Rights Campaign present a forum for 2020 presidential candidates in the fall.

It will focus specifically on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, offering candidates "an opportunity to speak about their policy platforms and plans to move LGBTQ equality forward," according to a statement.

No media partner has yet been announced, but the forum will be televised.

The event is scheduled for Oct. 10 at Royce Hall, on the eve of National Coming Out Day, and will be held in addition to an already-announced Democratic Primary Debate that month.

Unlike that event, candidates at the UCLA/HRC forum will fully outline their platforms one at a time. 

Democratic candidates can qualify for the event by receiving 1 percent or more of the vote in three separate national polls or by receiving donations from 65,000 different people in 20 different states.

According to the most recent polling data, that would mean places at the podium for Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Beto O'Rourke, Amy Klobuchar and John Hickenlooper. Should he announce as expected, Joe Biden will be there, too.

But so far only one LGBT candidate has expressed an interest in running: Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Having reached 65,000 donors, Buttigieg has qualified for inclusion in the debates, should his exploratory run become an official one. And if that happens, expect Buttigieg to be a breakout star of the LGBTQ forum.

This is the first such HRC-hosted forum since 2007, when Barack Obama appeared alongside Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and others. Like the announced forum in October, that discussion, broadcast on Logo and attended by an LGBTQ-leaning crowd, centered around gay rights.

Twelve years has made a world of difference in that arena. Back then, a majority of candidates felt any advancements in LGBTQ rights should stop short of legalizing same-sex marriage, then only legal in Massachusetts.

Then Sen. Obama argued for a "strong version" of civil unions, saying, "My view is that we should try to disentangle what has historically been the issue of the word 'marriage,' which has religious connotations to some people, from the civil rights that are given to couples."

In 2012, while campaigning for a second term in office, Obama came around to backing same-sex marriage.

Clinton, then a New York senator, took a similar stand, calling her opposition to same-sex marriage a "personal position" but insisting she believed "in equality." She added: "How we get to full equality is the debate we're having."

After a decade opposing it, Clinton eventually voiced her support for same-sex marriage in 2013.

Only two long-shot candidates — Dennis Kucinich, then an Ohio congressman, and Mike Gravel, an Alaska senator from 1969 to 1981 — offered full-throated endorsements of same-sex marriage.

"When you understand what real equality is, you understand that people who love each other must have the opportunity to be able to express that in a way that's meaningful," Kucinich said to cheers. 

Gravel, meanwhile, said the front runners were "playing it safe" and predicted same-sex marriage "will be a nonissue in the next presidential campaign in 2012." In fact, it would remain hotly debated until the Supreme Court's ruling on June 26, 2015, which held all state same-sex marriage bans to be unconstitutional.

LGBTQ issues were largely ignored or de-emphasized by Donald Trump in his 2016 presidential campaign — though Trump did make history by becoming the first Republican presidential nominee to mention LGBTQ rights in his acceptance speech.

Earlier that same year, however, after meeting with the anti-LGBTQ conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, Trump voiced opposition to same-sex marriage and pledged to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would reverse the "shocking" Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized it.

Since taking office, Trump — who chose Mike Pence, a strident opponent of civil liberties for LGBTQ citizens, as his vice president — is widely seen as having significantly set back LGBTQ rights and advancements in the U.S.

His administration has rolled back workplace protections for LGBTQ workers, scrapped census plans to study the LGBT population, eliminated AIDS research and treatment funding from the federal budget, and announced a ban on transgender personnel in the armed forces.

"Millions of LGBTQ people will have their rights on the ballot in 2020," HRC president Chad Griffin said in a statement announcing the planned fall forum. "But today we are also a powerful voting bloc that will help determine the outcome. We’re excited to partner with UCLA Luskin and create an opportunity to hear candidates’ agendas for moving equality forward.”