Back in September, more than 1,000 people packed Coe College’s Sinclair Auditorium in Cedar Rapids to hear Democratic presidential candidates in the first LGBTQ forum of the 2020 race.
Ten candidates including former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Amy Klobuchar joined the event. Each took the stage to share how they plan to address the concerns of LGBTQ voters.
The Cedar Rapids event was the first of two major gatherings this year aimed at specifically addressing LGBTQ concerns, highlighting a historic shift in the way these issues are addressed in presidential races. This cycle, each Democratic candidate identifies as standing in support of LGBTQ Americans, and the Democratic field includes the first openly gay top-tier presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg.
Many candidates have posted LGBTQ platforms on their websites, with Buttigieg and Warren each touting plans at least 18 pages long. Most major candidates agree on many issues, including signing into law the Equality Act, which aims to add explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Many candidates also agree on reinstating and expanding protections for LGBTQ Americans established under the Obama Administration that have since been rolled back, and removing barriers put in place by the Trump Administration, including the transgender military ban.
Through forums such as the one in Cedar Rapids, candidates are addressing LGBTQ Americans as a possible voting bloc. And while these votes are important collectively, Andrews Flores, a visiting scholar at UCLA's Williams Institute and an assistant professor at American University, says it’s important for candidates to recognize the broad diversity that makes up the LGBTQ community.
“Population data suggests that LGBTQ people come across a variety of economic strata, are racially and ethnically diverse, and are within rural and urban communities,” Flores says. “And so there's this great amount of diversity among LGBTQ people."
Conversion therapy, violence against transgender people of color and the impacts of religious exemption laws are a few of the concerns addressed in candidate plans that distinctly relate to LGBTQ communities. While attention to these issues is important, Keenan Crow, Director of Policy and Advocacy for One Iowa, says many of the top issues for LGBTQ voters are the same top policy concerns seen across the electorate.
“A lot of the concerns that we hear on a day-to-day basis at our organization involve pretty mundane things,” Crow says. “Getting health care, making sure that you have a job and that you can provide for your family, stuff that basically everyone in America is concerned about all the time.”
Crow says the policies proposed by Democratic candidates are a good start, but there’s still more work to be done.
“We just still have a long way to go, because these are issues that have been neglected for decades and decades,” Crow says. “Some of the solutions are not clear yet. And that's because those issues have been neglected for so long.”
The Williams Institute, which studies LGBTQ policies and politics at UCLA, estimates that almost nine million LGBT adults are registered to vote in 2020, and an exit poll from NBC News estimated that 6 percent of all midterm voters identified as LGBT in 2018.
These numbers make up a relatively small group compared to the entire electorate, but Flores says that LGBTQ voters, about 50 percent of whom are registered Democrats, could have the potential to make a difference when it comes to close races.
“A lot of elections in primaries and general elections are won kind of at the margin,” Flores says. “And so it's at those very tight moments where you will see the influence and impact of LGBTQ voters.”