Metro Weekly

GLAAD joins partnership to co-host LGBTQ-centric presidential forum

Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Joe Sestak, and Marianne Williamson have confirmed they will participate

Democratic candidates on the first of two debates featuring 2020 presidential contenders in Miami – Photo: MSNBC.

On Tuesday, LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD announced it will partner with LGBTQ rights organization One Iowa, Iowa newspaper The Gazette, and national LGBTQ publication The Advocate to host an upcoming presidential forum specifically focusing on LGBTQ issues.

The forum, which will be held at Coe College’s Sinclair Auditorium, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Sept. 20, will be live-streamed through GLAAD’s partnership across social and digital channels to national and international audiences.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), and author Marianne Williamson all previously announced their intention to participate in the forum. On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) confirmed he would also take part, tweeting that he was “looking forward to this important conversation.”

Each candidate will take the stage individually and will have time to make opening statements, followed by a moderated question-and-answer session. The moderators for the forum include: Lyz Lenz, a columnist for The Gazette, Zach Stafford, the editor-in-chief of The Advocate, and Keenan Crow, One Iowa’s director of policy and advocacy.

GLAAD has been quite vocal about the limited time dedicated to LGBTQ issues in the recent presidential debates, with candidates bringing up transgender health care and anti-trans violence unprompted in the first set of debates, as well as a single question directed at U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) on how her views on LGBTQ rights have changed since she worked for her father’s nonprofit, Stop Promoting Homosexuality America, which was engaged in anti-LGBTQ activism. In the second set of debates, LGBTQ issues weren’t even mentioned.

“LGBTQ issues and the LGBTQ community have been largely left out of the 2020 presidential primary conversation so far, and this forum will bring these important topics to a national audience for the first time in this election cycle,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement. “We look forward to hearing how each 2020 candidate will fight for LGBTQ acceptance during this campaign and beyond and, as President, how each of them would repair the damage done to LGBTQ equality and acceptance by the Trump Administration.”

GLAAD, which has been extremely critical of the Trump administration’s actions toward the LGBTQ community over the past two years, counts 124 anti-LGBTQ attacks, either in policy or rhetoric, by President Trump, his subordinates, and agencies under his control, as well as his nomination of anti-LGBTQ judges to the federal bench.

Examples of those attacks include briefs urging the Supreme Court to rule employers should be allowed to fire gay and trans employees without cause, the president’s attempts to ban transgender personnel from the U.S. military, a proposed rule to allow federal contractors to cite religious beliefs as justification for discriminating against employees based on a number of characteristics, and the rollback of protections ensuring LGBTQ people are not discriminated against when they attempt to access health care. 

Exit polls from the 2018 midterm elections revealed that LGBTQ voters represented about 6% of the electorate, making them large enough to constitute an influential voting bloc in the crowded Democratic primary — and not just in coastal states or large cities.

“We’re excited to have GLAAD on board as we shine a light on the lives and needs of LGBTQ people living in the heartland,” One Iowa Interim Executive Director Courtney Reyes said in a statement. “The overarching narrative that LGBTQ people in the U.S live in urban coastal areas ignores the millions of LGBTQ individuals living and working in the middle of the country. We look forward to hearing what the presidential candidates have to say to this often overlooked, but politically powerful community.”

The LGBTQ Presidential Forum, presented by One Iowa, GLAAD, The Advocate and The Gazette, is from 7-8:30 p.m. at Coe College’s Sinclair Auditorium, on 1st Avenue E., Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. For tickets, visit or call 319-398-8345.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at

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