ABOVE: “DEMZ” featuring Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden by Chad Mize.
It’s been more than three years since Donald Trump assumed the presidency of the United States, succeeding LGBTQ ally Barack Obama to become the nation’s 45th commander in chief. It’s been longer still since he became the first Republican to acknowledge the LGBTQ community from the podium of the Republican National Convention. On June 21, 2016, he vowed to protect LGBTQ citizens from “violence and oppression” while accepting his party’s nomination.
The promise drew the immediate ire of journalist Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter who was credited as the co-author of “The Art of the Deal,” Trump’s bestselling biography. Schwartz shadowed and studied the real estate developer for nearly two years to write the 1987 memoir for him, which he says today he would name “The Sociopath.”
Schwartz denounced Trump’s LGBTQ promise moments after he made it via Twitter, the social media platform often associated with his presidency. “My stomach turns at Trump defending the LGBTQ community,” he wrote. “So entirely scripted. The Trump I know would never have said that in a million years.”
The nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization agreed. Following his election, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) began tracking what the organization calls “Trump’s Timeline of Hate,” a detailed list of the administration’s anti-LGBTQ actions, policies and proposals.
“Since the moment Donald Trump and [Vice President] Mike Pence walked into the White House, they have attacked the progress we have made toward full equality for the LGBTQ community and undermined the rights of countless Americans,” the organization advises its supporters. “But over the course of their time in office, you haven’t stayed silent.
“Whether he meant to or not, Donald Trump and Mike Pence have awakened a sleeping giant,” HRC continues. “Never before have Americans been more eager to participate, advocate and fight back.”
That includes at the ballot box, where a historical 28 Democrats have sought to challenge Trump on the presidential ticket this year. As of press time, eight contenders remain.
They’ll next face off in South Carolina Feb. 29 before “Super Tuesday” March 3, when the greatest number of primary elections and caucuses are held in the U.S. They’ll vie for votes in the Sunshine State two weeks later on March 17, where the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus has long advocated for a change in the White House.
THE STATE OF THE UNION
As an arm of the state’s Democratic Party, the Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus represents the interests of LGBTQ Floridians. They do so with 21 statewide chapters, including in Hillsborough, Manatee, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Polk, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.
The thriving organization works with local, state and national partners to promote the ideals of the Democratic Party, a cornerstone of which is defending civil rights.
“We’re in a different position than a lot of other statewide organizations in that we are a partisan organization,” LGBTQ+ Democratic President Stephen Gaskill explains. “We support Democrats and believe that it’s the Democratic Party that is advancing LGBTQ equality.
“What we’ve seen from the Trump administration is an all-out assault on the LGBTQ community,” he continues. “The vice president is a longtime opponent of LGBTQ rights and the Trump administration has been attacking us from day one.”
Critics of the president point to a number of instances. After the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act in 2019, which would amend the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the Trump administration spoke out against it. The bill was “filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights,” the administration advised. To date, the Republican-controlled Senate has not advanced it.
The administration subsequently argued before the Supreme Court that LGBTQ workers are not protected by federal law, specifically Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The nation’s highest court, to which Trump has appointed two justices, heard arguments on the matter in Oct. 2019. Their decision is expected later this year.
Prior to this, the Trump administration implemented its ban on transgender Americans serving in the U.S. military, a policy originating by a Trump tweet. The Title IX guidance protecting transgender students in our nation’s schools was also rescinded.
“The vicious attempt to eliminate the transgender community from public life, whether it’s in the military or from having support and safety in public schools, is just appalling,” Gaskill asserts. “The next target will be another part of our community. It’s very clear that is their goal – to slowly strip us out of public life.
“Any of the Democrats who are running for president are going to be a change for the better,” he says. “We have a number of candidates on the ballot who are pro-LGBTQ rights and equality; any of them are going to be more progressive than Donald Trump … it’s just a matter of identifying who you feel most closely aligned with.”
For some Americans, if the presidential delegates required to receive the party’s nomination awarded in the first two races are any indication, edging out the other candidates is Pete Buttigieg. The former Indiana mayor received 13 in the Iowa caucus, becoming the first openly gay candidate in U.S. history to do so. He subsequently earned nine in New Hampshire.
“The electability assumptions of political pundits are tumbling down all around us – with Pete showing in Iowa and New Hampshire that he can build broad coalitions in cities and rural areas and across the political spectrum,” LGBTQ Victory Fund President Mayor Annise Parker shared after the results. The organization, which has endorsed Buttigieg, exists to elect LGBTQ Americans.
“It shatters the notion that an openly gay candidate can win in only the most liberal hotspots and underscores Pete’s position as the best candidate to unite Americans in defeating Donald Trump,” she noted. “With enormous momentum heading into the upcoming primaries, it is clear America is ready to elect its first openly gay president.”
Buttigieg has promised to usher in a new era for the LGBTQ community if elected as such, a commitment his campaign reiterated to Watermark. “To be LGBTQ+ in America today is to both enjoy freedoms hard-won by pioneers who came before us, and feel the urgency of unfinished promises of full equality under the law,” his plan reads. “LGBTQ+ people aren’t just bystanders in American history – they are drivers of it.”
He’s also noted that he’ll use his personal story and experiences to unite the country in the name of equality. He’s vowed to help others understand that LGBTQ freedoms are intrinsically tied to those of every other American.
“Across much of our country, discrimination and the ever-present fear of it continue to govern aspects of LGBTQ+ people’s lives,” his plan reads. “Which bathroom can I use safely? Can I kiss my partner at this restaurant? Should I hold their hand in public? Will I be able to raise a family? Will I be harassed at school? Can I live here and be happy? Will I ever be accepted?
“When I’m president, I hope these questions will no longer haunt us,” it continues. “As president, I will use my story, our energy and the power of the presidency to tear down the walls that have excluded far too many LGBTQ+ people for far too long.”
Half of the candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president hail from the U.S. Congress. Three are from the Senate – Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar – and the fourth is from the House, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. As such, the HRC has tracked their public commitments to the LGBTQ community while serving.
The organization’s latest congressional scorecard measures support for equality based on a range of key indicators, from votes to confirm what it calls anti-LGBTQ Trump-Pence officials and judicial nominees to co-sponsorships of and votes for legislation significantly impacting the LGBTQ community. Each of the four received a perfect score.
While the Senators have received 100% scores in the organization’s last three consecutive scorecards, the latest tracking is Gabbard’s first in recent years. In its 114th and 113th congressional scorecards, she respectively received an 88% and 92%.
In the delegate count for the country’s first two races, Sanders led behind Buttigieg; he received 12 in Iowa and nine in New Hampshire. His campaign tells Watermark that’s due in part to his commitment to all Americans.
“Bernie knows that the United States has made remarkable progress on equality in a relatively short amount of time,” an official shared. “But there is still much work to be done. In many states, it is still legal to fire someone for being LGBTQ+. Incredibly, it is still legal to deny someone housing or service in the military for being transgender … We must end discrimination in all forms.”
Warren garned eight in Iowa. “As president, I will work to root out the discrimination that LGBTQ+ individuals face throughout their lives,” she shared with Watermark. “The path to LGBTQ+ equality is far from over, but shoulder to shoulder, I will fight for LGBTQ+ equality in solidarity with the leaders and organizers who have been at the helm from the very beginning. Because when we organize together, when we fight together, and when we persist together, we can win.”
Behind her was Klobuchar, who received one delegate in Iowa and another six in New Hampshire. While her campaign did not respond to Watermark’s requests for comment, her comprehensive commitment to LGBTQ equality is evident via her website.
“America is a nation founded on equality for all people and Senator Klobuchar believes that we must never stop fighting to advance that equality for the LGBTQ community,” it reads. “At a time when President Trump is trying to roll back LGBTQ rights, Senator Klobuchar continues to push for LGBTQ equality when it comes to health care, education and civil rights.”
Gabbard’s commitment to securing LGBTQ equality if elected as president is less detailed, though she has publicly apologized for previous anti-LGBTQ stances, as cited on her campaign’s website.
It also notes that “we must work side-by-side to stand up to bigotry, hatred, and violence against others because of their race, religion or sexual orientation. We must continue to fight for genuine equality and restore human dignity for all Americans.” It further references LGBTQ-inclusive quotes and legislation. As of press time, she has received zero delegates.
Fourth in the delegate count after the first two races, having earned six in Iowa, is former Vice President and longtime LGBTQ ally Joe Biden.
“It’s hard to forget Joe Biden’s historic 2012 ‘Meet the Press’ interview, when, without the consultation of the White House, he declared his support for same-sex marriage,” his campaign’s National Press Secretary Jamal Brown tells Watermark. “In that off script moment, Joe became the highest-ranking American official to state his support for same-sex marriage.”
Biden also declared LGBTQ rights as his top legislative priority, calling the passage of the Equality Act “the first thing I ask to be done.” While delivering a keynote address for an HRC gala last June, he promised equality for all.
He also vowed to continue that fight should he not receive the nomination. “As Joe made clear to the LGBTQ community in speaking before the HRC,” Brown notes, “‘I promise you, whether I am elected or not, I’ll be back as a private citizen to make sure I stand with you in this fight. It matters to my children.’ It’s why Joe made LGBTQ equality a key pillar of his work in private life at the Biden Foundation and why he will be an LGBTQ champion as president.”
The two remaining candidates – former Mayor Mike Bloomberg and activist Tom Steyer – have yet to receive presidential delegates, though they have received criticism and praise for their financial status as billionaires. They’ve also received and been clear about their LGBTQ support.
“Equality for LGBTQ+ Americans is threatened by Trump administration efforts to dismantle key protections, and a patchwork of state laws leaves millions of LGBTQ+ people at risk for workplace, healthcare and housing discrimination,” Bloomberg’s plan for LGBTQ equality reads. “Mike’s solution is to restore U.S. leadership on LGBTQ+ rights at home and around the world.”
His campaign also notes that “over the past three years, the Trump administration has acted to dismantle federal protections and resources for LGBTQ+ Americans, including stripping transgender people of their recognized identities and civil rights and nominating judges and officials with strong anti-LGBTQ+ records.”
“To this day, far too many are still subjected to discrimination because of who they are or who they love,” Steyer advises Watermark. “From the Stonewall Riots to the AIDS crisis, through to Marriage Equality, grassroots LGBTQ activists have fought for recognition as equal citizens under the law … We must celebrate this progress, but as we do so, we must directly confront that the work is not finished.”
His civil rights plan further asserts that “our government must be of, by, and for the people,” adding that it “means all of us – not just some.” Steyer says “we must actively call out racism, white nationalism, LGBTQ and gender bias, as well as work to address the disparities still defining too much of American life.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
“Having candidates who are reaching out to the LGBTQ community specifically with programs and plans shows that they want our vote,” Gaskill summarizes. “They know that our community can contribute and that we can really make a difference in who is elected, which makes a difference in the direction of the country.”
Gaskill adds that the LGBTQ vote matters because “we’re a large part of every community,” pointing toward the LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus’ 21 chapters. They’re currently thriving throughout Florida, in both traditionally Republican and Democratic strongholds. “We can be the margin of victory in so many races,” he says.
That’s why Watermark reached out to each of the eight remaining Democratic presidential campaigns, as well as the president’s re-election campaign, to ask 10 questions focused on LGBTQ equality ahead of Florida’s primary.
Neither Trump’s campaign nor local chapters of The Log Cabin Republicans, the LGBTQ organization which has endorsed his 2020 race, responded to our multiple requests for comment. Each Democratic campaign, with the exception of Klobuchar’s and Gabbard’s, responded directly. View their answers here.
Florida’s presidential preference primary will be held March 17, 2020, with early voting March 7-14.
To check your voter registration status and for details about your local polling place, visit RegisterToVoteFlorida.gov.