Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign-in-waiting has started reaching out to LGBT groups and activists to address the past anti-gay comments that have circulated since she announced she would run for president.
Gabbard’s announcement that she would launch a presidential campaign last week on Van Jones’ CNN show was followed by several articles focused on comments she made in the early 2000s describing proponents of same-sex marriage as “homosexual extremists” and her close affiliation with an organization run by her father that promoted conversion therapy.
In a written statement provided to both CNN and HuffPost, Gabbard apologized for the past comments and touted her support for the LGBT community during her time in Congress. On Wednesday, she tweeted another apology, following a statement of support from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a gay Democrat from New York.
“Many years ago I said & believed things that were wrong & hurtful to the LGBT community. For that, I remain deeply sorry. My views have changed, & I’m committed to continuing to fight for LGBT equality,” she tweeted.
Her minimal public engagement with the controversy over the last several days has left some Democrats baffled. And the prospect of her formally launching a campaign without any more serious discussion and explanation of those past comments raised some eyebrows and hackles among early state Democrats.
“A statement is nothing, her actions need to show this,” said Nate Monson, the executive director of Safe Schools Iowa, which advocates for LGBT youth, who said he’d want to see her meet with queer youth and survivors of conversion therapy.
“It’s a serious redemption tour, and frankly she should probably withhold running for president until she’s done that,” he added.
A representative of one Iowa Democrat group expressed wariness of holding an event with her before she addressed the subject more fully, for fear of alienating LGBT members of the community.
Behind closed doors, Gabbard’s team has started some damage control, reaching out to LGBT groups to try to find a way to clear the air.
A member of Gabbard’s staff reached out to a prominent national LGBT group to discuss avenues for her to get her views out on the subject in the wake of those stories, a representative of the group told BuzzFeed News.
And after Monson tweeted critically about Gabbard’s past positions, a person affiliated with her team reached out to organize a discussion about her beliefs.
Maloney’s statement Wednesday vouching for Gabbard deemed her an ally of the LGBT community who had fully changed her positions.
“I also understand how important it is that we encourage people to admit their error, grow and evolve, as much of the country has done over the last two decades. That is exactly what Tulsi Gabbard has done. She recognized the fault in her past views and the pain she was causing, and she has apologized. She admitted her error and has become a strong ally and close friend in Congress,” he said in the statement.
The statement came about after Gabbard and Maloney, who are friends, spoke on the House floor. Maloney offered to send the statement, according to a source familiar with the interaction.
Like Maloney, LGBT groups and activists said they fully believed that people’s views on the subject could sincerely change, as Gabbard’s said hers have. Gabbard is hardly the first Democrat to have had a change of heart in regard to the LGBT community and gay marriage, though her evolution was more dramatic than most, given that she pushed for an amendment to the Hawaii Constitution to limit the definition of marriage to one man and one woman.
“We call this the LGBTQ movement because we’re in the business of helping people move from a place of non-understanding, a place of non-acceptance to a place of acceptance,” said Zeke Stokes, the vice president of programs at GLAAD. “As a community, we’ve always given people room to change their views on this.” Stokes said GLAAD had not had any outreach from Gabbard’s team.
“If she wants to have fruitful conversations in the state, she needs to address this thoroughly,” said Lucas Meyer, president of the New Hampshire Young Democrats. “What Democrats and progressives are looking for in a presidential candidate is someone to be up front and honest, and this is part of that process. And if she wants to have conversations in this state and move things forward, folks are gonna ask her to explain that.”
Gabbard’s team did not respond to a request for comment.