Warren & Buttigieg detail their LGBTQ policies

The White House in rainbow colors.
On June 26, 2015, the White House was lit with the colors of the rainbow in celebration of the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. Photo: Pete Souza / White House

If there was any question that the LGBTQ vote is now part of the Democratic party’s core constituency, the flurry of activity in advance of tonight’s LGBTQ Town Hall should dispel it. The event, co-sponsored by CNN and HRC, is attracting most of the candidates (with the notable exception of Bernie Sanders).

It’s also serving as the excuse for candidates, including Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, to release their detailed policy positions on LGBTQ rights, with more no doubt to follow.

Related: Democratic presidential candidates are starting to add preferred pronouns to their bios

What’s striking about the policy papers–18 pages long for Buttigieg and 12 pages long for Warren–is just how much the policy papers overlap, right down to introductions that acknowledge the contributions of transgender activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson during the Stonewall riots. (Buttigieg provides a bit more history about the modern LGBTQ movement than Warren.)

Some of the pledges that Warren and Buttigieg make are obvious, such as advocating for passage of the Equality Act, which would ban workplace discrimination, and the repeal of President Trump’s ban on transgender service members. Some of the pledges aren’t necessarily LGBTQ specific, but would benefit LGBTQ people.

But even in the details, Warren’s and Buttigieg’s proposals are remarkable similar. Both promise to create a third, non-binary option for documents such as passports. Both talk about addressing the needs of LGBTQ seniors and rural residents. Both propose a housing policy to address youth homelessness, and both promise to pass legislation to prevent prison rape against LGBTQ inmates.

Of course, there are policy differences. Warren promotes her Medicare for All policy, while Buttigieg promotes his more scaled-down version, Medicare for All Who Want It. Warren says flatly that the U.S. should publicly manufacture PrEP to lower cost and increase availability, Buttigieg is more cautious, saying his administration would pursue that approach should “aggressive price negotiations” with pharma companies fail.  Buttigieg also gets into issues that Warren doesn’t, including a proposed ban on surgeries on intersex infants.

There are some other differences. Buttigieg’s policy paper includes personal stories from LGBTQ people, including Shanna Peeples, the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, about their experiences. Buttigieg’s paper, titled “Becoming Whole: A New Era for LGBTQ+ Americans,” is also organized in the kind of slick format that you’d expect from someone who used to be a McKinsey consultant.

The plan is grouped into seven broad buckets: equality, health, youth and family, justice, community, honor, and leadership. Each bucket has a bulleted list of actions that Buttigieg would take as president. By contrast, Warren covers much the same territory (also in bullets), but with many of her promises lumped together and not teased out as separate topics. Her paper’s title is more to the point than aspirational: “Securing LGBTQ+ Rights and Equality.”

The differences in language reflect the personalities of each candidate. While Buttigieg promises to “ensure that the freedom of religion is not exploited into a license to discriminate,” Warren is much blunter. “We…must prevent the weaponization of religion to discriminate against or harm LGBTQ+ people,” she says.

Of course, what Buttigieg has to offer is personal experience, which he briefly touches on in the paper.  “Twenty years ago, an awkward teenager at St. Joe High School in South Bend, Indiana, who didn’t know a single out LGBTQ+ student there, never would have imagined how far we would come as a country,” Buttigieg says. “But what does our country look like to a teenager in 2019, just starting to realize who they are? What future do they see for themselves?”

When Buttigieg says that as president, “I will use the power of the presidency to tear down the walls that have excluded far too many LGBTQ+ people for far too long,” you don’t need a codebook to realize that he’s saying that his very election would shatter a lot of walls (and ceilings).

As anyone who listened to the LGBTQ forum held in Iowa last month would realize, the main difference among the vast majority of the Democratic candidates is just how far they will trip over themselves to ingratiate themselves to LGBTQ voters. The depth of the policy proposals is a testament to how much the LGBTQ vote matteers.

But keep in mind a proposal is just that–not a reality. There’s still that nagging little problem of making promises come true. If Republicans continue to hold the Senate, the Equality Act, the Refund Equality Act, expanded Medicare (for All or Anyone at All), and anything else that will benefit LGBTQ people will never become the law of the land.

That’s not to say that the promises count for nothing. But the political reality counts for even more.

In a statement sent to LGBTQ Nation, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign touted his past accomplishments and pointed out he will continue working on the issues in his opponents’ plans as he has for years. Biden will release his own official plan later this month.

“More than any candidate running today, Vice President Biden has supported some of the most significant legislative and social advancements in the road towards equality and progress for LGBTQ people in America and around the world,” Jamal Brown, National Press Secretary said. Brown, who is out, worked in the Obama administration previously.

“In the Obama-Biden Administration, alone, we saw passage of the Matthew Shepard and James L. Byrd Hate Crimes and Prevention Act, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the first comprehensive HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States, took action to prevent bullying against LGBTQ students in school, removed the ban on transgender Americans in the military, and saw marriage equality become law of the land.”

“So tonight you’ll hear him talk about that record and his vision to build on it. He understands the urgent needs facing our community but also the opportunities. The need to base decisions on science and lift the discriminatory blood ban. The need to ensure we’re represented when the federal government makes decisions around the allocation of resources in housing, health care, employment, and more. The need to address the acute homelessness affecting our community, particularly LGBTQ youth. The need to end the cruel practice of conversion therapy. And, of course, the need to sign into law the Equality Act.”

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