There was a lot of drama. Senator Cory Booker, by way of greeting, lifted one of the moderators of Friday night’s L.G.B.T.Q. Presidential Forum right off the floor in a great bear hug. Later, an audience member interrupted Senator Amy Klobuchar with what sounded like an appeal to “protect sex workers.”
And then there was Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who was asked what it would feel like to serve as president of a country for which he could not, under current regulations, donate his blood.
But the most breathtaking moment, by my reckoning, belonged to Senator Elizabeth Warren, who said that she wasn’t just going to tell us what she’d do in her first 100 days. She would show us.
And then she read aloud the names of the 18 transgender women of color who have been murdered this year, in a voice that quavered with emotion. “It is time,” she concluded, “for a president of the United States of America to say their names.”
Those names are Dana Martin, Jazzaline Ware, Ashanti Carmon, Claire Legato, Muhlaysia Booker, Michelle Tamika Washington, Paris Cameron, Chynal Lindsey, Chanel Scurlock, Zoe Spears, Brooklyn Lindsey, Denali Berries Stuckey, Kiki Fantroy, Pebbles LaDime “Dime” Doe, Tracy Single, Bailey Reeves, Bee Love Slater, and Ja’leyah-Jamar.
It was a historic night — the first time candidates for president have been brought together to discuss queer issues, in an event sponsored by The Gazette, the Advocate, One Iowa, and GLAAD (the L.G.B.T.Q. nonprofit which I served as national co-chair for four years).
Cory Booker was the star of the first hour. After he bear-hugged Zach Stafford, the editor of the Advocate, he gave a speech that was, for all its brevity, a barn burner. “You cannot lead the people,” he said, “if you do not love the people.”
Meanwhile, as an older American — and one from Pennsylvania at that — I have a longtime affection for former Vice President Joe Biden, a fondness that has occasionally put me at odds with a younger generation of queer activists. I had hoped that Biden’s appearance at the forum would finally put to rest the uncertainty around his candidacy.
That didn’t happen. Instead, — I’m so sorry to have to say this — he appeared, once again, to be phoning it in. He said a few passionate but circuitous words as he stepped onto the stage, then looked over at the host, Lyz Lenz, an Iowa-based writer. “Do I go sit down?” he asked.
She nodded. “Honestly, I thought you’d go a little longer.”
Later, when she asked about Biden’s description of Mike Pence as “a decent guy,” he just looked at her and said, “You’re a lovely person.”
Backstage, Lenz said, Biden had called her “sweetheart.”
It may well be that this was, once again, just Joe being Joe. But — to put it mildly — he’s wearing me down. He has to do better.
Pete Buttigieg had a good night; so did Julián Castro. Senator Kamala Harris did well enough, but I had hoped she’d show some of the grace and magic on display in the first debate. That didn’t happen, either.
There were three losers of the forum, all Republicans: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, and the president himself. Many of the candidates took special note to lament the actions of the trio: DeVos, for refusing to investigate complaints by trans students in schools; Carson for his horrific description of trans women this week as “big hairy men;” and Donald Trump for pretty much everything: for the damage his administration has done to queer America, and for his passion, as abetted by Russian trolls, for pitting us against one another.
Another loser last night was Senator Bernie Sanders, who did not show. There’s a second forum coming up in October, sponsored by U.C.L.A. and the Human Rights Campaign. Sanders isn’t going to that one, either. His campaign cites scheduling conflicts.
Some of the other winners weren’t candidates. Angelica Ross, the chief moderator, was poised and fierce; you could make the case that she was more electrifying than any of people actually in the race. The sponsors of the event had a lot to celebrate as well, just for the fact of pulling this whole thing off. GLAAD’s chief executive, Sarah Kate Ellis, provided a poised, articulate keynote as the evening began. As I listened to her, it occurred to me — and not for the first time — that I wouldn’t mind it one bit if she ran for president herself.
Which is more than I can say about some people.
But it was Warren and Booker who shone brightest. Warren, when asked about some Americans objecting to the morality of queer lives, responded with the parable in Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats. “Whatever you have done for the least of my brothers and sisters,” she read, quoting Christ, “you did for me.”
I would hope that this passage from Scripture gives Mike Pence something to think about.
Booker, in making an appeal for a revival of civic grace, was nothing short of inspirational. Is this the moment he breaks out of the middle of the pack, and rises into the top tier? We’ll know soon enough.
“What does love look like in public?” he asked. “It looks like justice.”
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