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What to watch for as Democrats meet in first LGBTQ forum of 2020 campaign

A live stream of the event and what to watch for as 10 candidates meet on stage in Iowa.
Tonight's LGBTQ Presidential Forum is hosted by Angelica Ross of FX's Pose. [Twitter]
Published Sep. 20

With similar stances and pro-LGBTQ backgrounds, discussion and debate of LGBTQ issues have been subdued in the early days of the hunt for the Democratic nomination.

That will change Friday when 10 candidates appear in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for an LGBTQ Presidential Forum — the first of its kind this election cycle. Those 10 candidates won’t be the same as the 10 who appeared in the third Democratic debate last week.

Scheduled to be present in Iowa is Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Julián Castro, Amy Klobuchar, Tulsi Gabbard, Joe Sestak and Marianne Williamson. Those who’ll be absent from the forum but participated in the third debate will be Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke and Andrew Yang.

The event will be hosted by actress and activist Angelica Ross of FX’s Pose. It’s scheduled to run from 8 to 10 p.m. ET and will be live-streamed exclusively on YouTube here and at the top of this article.

Here’s what to watch for.

How will Tulsi Gabbard defend her anti-LGBTQ past?

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, speaks during the New Hampshire state Democratic Party convention, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Manchester, NH. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) [ROBERT F. BUKATY | AP]

Though incidents were over a decade ago and she’s since apologized, it remains true that Gabbard, a U.S. representative from Hawaii, will be the only candidate on stage Friday with a history of anti-LGBTQ stances.

In 2004, when Hawaii was considering a civil unions bill, Gabbard warned of “homosexual extremists.”

“As Democrats, we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists," said Gabbard, then a state representative.

In the early 2000s, she touted her work with her father’s anti-gay organization, which worked against same-sex marriage and promoted controversial conversion therapy.

This was a commercial from her father in 1998, which Gabbard is featured in.

While Gabbard has since reversed and apologized for what she now describes as ‘hurtful’ views, Friday night will be the most high-profile setting to set the record straight — and potentially be challenged by moderators — for what she really believes.

In recent years, Gabbard has publicly come to support marriage equality, the Equality Act, and other pro-LGBTQ legislation. In her most recent term, she received a perfect 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s scorecard — which rates politicians on how pro- or anti-LGBTQ they are.

Gabbard released this apology in January of this year.

Will any candidate make a real mark?

Democratic presidential candidate author Marianne Williamson, accompanied by moderator Ali Velshi, right, speaks during the Climate Forum at Georgetown University, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) [JOSE LUIS MAGANA | AP]

The reality is, the candidates taking the stage Friday almost all (sans Gabbard) have openly supported and fought for the LGBTQ community throughout their political careers.

With this begs the question: Will any candidate stand out in a field that has essentially the same views?

Among issues sure to be discussed — and confirmed by GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, who is helping to run the forum — will be how to reverse the attacks and rollbacks of President Donald Trump’s administration. They’ll also be asked how they plan to put LGBTQ Americans on a course toward “100% acceptance.”

Among the policies enacted by the Trump administration includes the ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military and its opposition to the Equality Act — a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of the sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition of an individual and sex-based stereotypes.

All ten candidates have spoken out against Trump and his administration’s policy, but tonight could show how much of a priority these issues would be for each candidate if they were to win the presidency.

What’s up with Joe?

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Sestak gestures while speaking at the Democratic National Committee's summer meeting Friday, Aug. 23, 2019, in San Francisco. More than a dozen Democratic presidential hopefuls are making their way to California to curry favor with national party activists from around country. Democratic National Committee members will hear Friday from top contenders, including Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) [BEN MARGOT | AP]

No, not that Joe.

Joe Sestak, a former U.S. representative from Pennsylvania, has been absent from virtually all media coverage, debates and the public eye for the start of the 2020 campaign cycle, but will be making his first major appearance on Friday night.

But he missed for good reason — the 67-year-old was at his home in Springfield, Pennsylvania supporting his daughter Alexandra as she fought through her second bout of brain cancer.

Is he too late to move up in the already-crowded Democratic field? Most likely. Still, sharing a stage with Biden and Warren — the front-runners for the Democratic nomination — is something to note.

According to his web site, Sestak would reverse the trans military ban, push for passage of the Equality Act, oppose efforts to allow discrimination “under the guise of ‘religious liberty,’” and seek to combat violence against LGBTQ people.

Basically, the same as everybody else on stage — but how he and other candidates present those beliefs could be what’s most memorable from the night.

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