Gabbard ignores LGBTQ survey questions from Human Rights Campaign

By : Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade, courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association
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ABOVE: Tulsi Gabbard (Photo from Michael Key of the Washington Blade)

Seven current candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination were the among the respondents to an LGBTQ survey the nation’s leading LGBTQ group unveiled Feb. 24, but Tulsi Gabbard — who has been criticized for having an anti-LGBTQ past — wasn’t among them.

The seven current candidates who responded — Joseph Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren — responded affirmatively to each of HRC’s questions on LGBTQ issues, including whether they support the Equality Act, oppose President Trump’s transgender military ban and will commit to tackling anti-trans violence.

The lack of response from Gabbard sticks out, especially because she faced heavy criticism during the start of her presidential campaign for her opposition to LGBTQ rights as a Hawaii state legislator.

At the time in the early 2000s, Gabbard denounced LGBTQ rights supporters seeking to legalize civil unions as “homosexual extremists” and touted working for her father’s anti-gay organization, which fought marriage equality and promoted widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy.

Although Gabbard had previously apologized after winning election to Congress, she issued after the start of her presidential campaign another apology via video, saying her anti-LGBTQ remarks “were very hurtful for people in the LGBTQ community and to their loved ones.”

“I’m deeply sorry for having said that,” Gabbard says. “My views have changed significantly since then and my record in Congress over the last six years and reflect what is in my years.”

Gabbard since her election to Congress has endorsed marriage equality and became a co-sponsor of the Equality Act, legislation that would bar anti-LGBTQ discrimination under federal law.

But her record on LGBTQ issues isn’t spotless. The Hawaii Democrat was among a handful of congressional Democrats last year who didn’t sign a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, therefore illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In a news statement, the Human Rights Campaign says it will update its website with Gabbard’s responses should she provide them. The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Gabbard campaign seeking comment on why it didn’t provide an LGBTQ survey response.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, Andrew Yang and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick also responded to the survey, but the organization didn’t make those results public because neither are still in the race.

Also not among the respondents is Trump, who has been criticized for building an anti-LGBTQ record over the course of his administration. Asked by Blade whether the Trump campaign received a questionnaire, an HRC spokesperson replied, “HRC sent questionnaires to all Democratic presidential candidates earlier this year.”

HRC hasn’t made an endorsement in the 2020 presidential race. Asked by the Blade how the survey results will factor into the endorsement decision and whether the endorsement during the primary, the HRC spokesperson was vague in response.

“These answers, alongside our town hall, will be crucial to our endorsement process and decision,“ the HRC spokesperson said.

HRC has a varied history on presidential endorsements, although it always endorsed Democratic candidates for the White House. In 2016, HRC endorsed Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary. In 2008, the organization waited until the conclusion of the primary between Clinton and Barack Obama before endorsing the latter candidate, who went on to win the presidency.

The Blade has placed a follow-up inquiry in with the Human Rights Campaign on whether the Gabbard campaign provided any explanation for not providing an LGBTQ survey response by deadline.

UPDATE: Cullen Tiernan, a Gabbard campaign spokesperson, said via email to Washington Blade the candidate never obtained the LGBTQ survey, accusing the Human Rights Campaign of “spreading falsehoods.”

“We never received the questionnaire from HRC,” Tiernan said. “For HRC to claim that she did not respond to a questionnaire which she was never sent is false, and they should apologize for spreading falsehoods. Tulsi also deserves an apology from those outlets who used this falsehood to attack her commitment to equal rights for all.”

But HRC stood by its initial claim it sent a survey and the Gabbard campaign didn’t respond.

Lucas Acosta, an HRC spokesperson, flat-out denied the allegation from the Gabbard campaign his organization never sent the survey.

“This is categorically false,” Acosta said. “HRC sent our presidential questionnaire to candidates, including Tulsi Gabbard, on Jan. 12, 2020. As we’ve stated publicly before, we will happily receive and post her responses should she send them.”

An HRC staffer provided an image of an email it says was sent to Gabbard Campaign Chair Erika Tsuji on her campaign email account. According to the campaign’s most recent campaign finance filing on Feb. 20, 2020, Tsuji is still a member of the campaign.

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