The fifth Democratic debate came and went Wednesday without a single question about the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans — a topic that no debate moderator has brought up at any debate this year, with the exception of a June question directed only at Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
The 10 Democrats answered an unusually broad range of questions that varied from abortion rights to white supremacist violence to chants of “Lock him up” at Democratic rallies. None of the questions touched on LGBTQ rights — despite the presence on stage of the country’s first viable openly gay candidate for president, Pete Buttigieg, as well as an openly lesbian moderator, Rachel Maddow.
Wednesday also marked the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to mark the memories of transgender people who were killed in anti-trans violence. Former housing secretary Julián Castro, who is running for president but did not qualify for the night’s debate, tweeted to note that the day had not been mentioned onstage.
LGBTQ activists have grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of questions about queer rights on the Democratic debate stage. A case is looming before the Supreme Court that could determine whether LGBTQ Americans are protected from employment discrimination, and there is a spate of ongoing violence against black transgender women.
In the first debate, Gabbard, who has a checkered history over gay rights from her earliest days in politics, was asked about her own record.
The topic has otherwise been relegated to two forums focused on LGBTQ rights, including a CNN town hall in October, where nine candidates appeared. Buttigieg gave a moving answer in those forums about his experience being prevented from donating blood at an annual blood drive hosted by his own office, calling for the overhaul of rules prohibiting gay men from blood donation.
Buttigieg, in responding to a question about appealing to diverse voters, did bring up his sexuality Wednesday night. “I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country,” he said, “turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate.”