LOS ANGELES (CN) — Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden and seven other Democratic presidential candidates said at an LA town hall Thursday that they would implement civil rights protections for LGBTQ people and overturn discriminatory policies.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker was first to speak at the “Power of Our Pride” event — broadcast live by CNN — promising to put in place workplace protections for LGBTQ people, in particular transgender people.
Booker told Brandon Wolf – a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida — that he would direct his administration to treat such events as domestic terrorism and that white supremacist movements would be investigated by the Justice Department.
Booker and Warren were asked how they would respond if the U.S. Supreme Court rules, in a case argued week, that Civil Rights Act protections don’t extend to gay and transgender people.
“If your rights are denied, my rights are compromised,” Booker said.
Warren said that regardless of the ruling, she would work to ensure the passage of the Equality Act, which creates national nondiscrimination laws protecting transgender, gay and queer individuals.
The bill cleared the House of Representatives but has yet to be called for a vote in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Warren said more Democrats are needed since Republicans have yet to fully to recognize that “people vote on LGBTQ issues.”
LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, which organized the town hall, said in a statement that there are at least 10 million LGBTQ voters nationwide and that more than 70% cast ballots in the 2018 national election.
When asked by CNN’s Chris Cuomo whether she ever held conservative views on LGBTQ people, Warren said she didn’t remember but that her faith currently calls her to recognize the “preciousness and worth of every life.”
Warren — who in a national poll this week pulled ahead of all other Democrats vying for the White House in 2020 — said she would support tax dollars subsidizing drugs that prevent HIV transmission, such as PrEP, and gender-affirming surgery.
When dealing with countries who actively persecute gay and transgender people, Warren said she would set national standards on labor, environmental and human rights practices among trade partners.
Biden — who slipped to second place in the Quinnipiac University poll this week — said he would curtail foreign aid to nations that persecute LGBTQ people, including Saudi Arabia, who he said has “very little socially redeeming value.”
“I know that Saudi Arabia are supposedly our allies and all that, but we cannot be part of propping up governments that abuse,” Biden told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “Culture is never a rationale for pain.”
Cooper told the audience that an LGBTQ-focused presidential forum “would have been unthinkable a few years ago” but that more is needed to ensure equal rights.
Biden said that as president he would ensure Americans understand the “extent of abuse” that gay and transgender people experience in order to foment activism.
“If people knew what was going on, things would be different,” Biden told the audience. “American people are better than we give them credit for.”
The former Delaware senator also promised to overturn the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people serving in the military.
The promise to overturn the ban was also adopted by Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, a U.S. military veteran and the only openly gay presidential candidate.
“The transgender military ban is an outrage against the willingness of service members to put their lives on the line for this country, and they are having their careers threatened by a president who avoided serving when it was his turn,” Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg — who stopped to recognize activists bringing attention to an epidemic of violence against black transgender women — said that while coming out was a challenge for him, there are a diversity of struggles within the LGBTQ community.
“And I’m very mindful of the fact that my experience as a gay man — as a white, cisgender gay man — means that there are dimensions, for example, of what it’s like to be a black trans woman, that I do not personally understand,” Buttigieg said. “But I also think the diversity within the LGBTQ community is part of what we have to offer right now.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders withdrew from Thursday’s event after temporarily suspending his campaign following a heart attack.
The town hall marks the eve of the 31st National Coming Out Day, an event first observed on Oct. 11, 1988, to mark the first anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
Former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke said he would create space in his campaign for black trans people to guide him on policy and direct the Justice Department to investigate murders of black trans women.
O’Rourke and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar promised to make the practice of conversion therapy illegal, calling it ‘tantamount to torture on defenseless children.”
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro — who wore a pin commemorating the 49 people who died in the Pulse nightclub shooting — said he would roll back tax exemptions for religious institutions that discriminate against LGBTQ people.
Castro also said he would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation for people seeking housing and or medical care.
California Senator Kamala Harris — who drew applause for listing her pronouns — said she would back federal protections for LGBTQ communities, which she called some of the “most vulnerable” in the nation.
“When I say vulnerable, I don’t mean you’re not strong,” Harris said. “I say because, we know, certain populations are more vulnerable to hate based on other people’s prejudice and racism.”
Harris also promised to overturn the ban on transgender people serving in the military and said she would appoint a “chief advocate for LGBTQ+ affairs” to serve in her administration.