Where 2020 Dem Candidates Stand on Transgender Issues

CBS News
August 21, 2019 - 8:39 am

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As the Trump administration continues to roll back key safeguards for the LGBTQ community, from adequate access to health care to their ability to serve in the military, transgender Americans are increasingly nervous about being deprived of their rights to live freely.

The National Center for Trans Equality Action Fund (NCTE) has identified over 30 discriminatory practices against trans people that the administration has implemented or tried to impose since President Trump took office. As a result, NCTE considers the 2020 election "by far the most important election in our life time" for the LGBTQ community. 

"We have a very specific type of president who many of us feel like is intentionally trying to destroy our society as it is. There are so many ways in which the Trump administration and the fed government will not support trans citizens and we see that in all his rollbacks and policies," said NCTE Action Fund executive director Mara Keisling.

In candidate interviews shared with CBS News, a number of the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders addressed NCTE through its new "TransForm the White House Forum" to make their cases to the trans community on how they'd protect trans rights. 

"It's important for trans people to hear directly from the candidates themselves, what the candidates are thinking around a certain cluster of issues," Keisling said. 

The forum, which includes a series of sit-down interviews with the candidates and will continue throughout the 2020 campaign cycle, focuses on educating and opening up conversation for a motivated set of voters who are often excluded from campaign agendas. 

So far, here's what the candidates are saying about issues that matter most to trans people:

Health Care

During his administration, President Trump has been stripping the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of provisions that expanded anti-discrimination protections for transgender individuals, making it more difficult for transgender people to find adequate and compassionate medical care. 

For instance, the Health and Human Services Department announced a new "Conscience Rule" in May that would allow health care workers, doctors, hospitals and health insurance companies that receive federal funding to refuse to provide medical procedures on moral or religious grounds. Critics fear that the rule could be used to deny medical care entirely to LGBTQ patients, for anything from a sore throat to reproductive health.

The rule would change a 2016 rule that banned discrimination on the basis of sex and against transgender people by health care providers receiving federal funding. Keisling said that all the candidates were "extremely aware" of the issue and "seemed committed to see trans people were protected."

Sen. Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, called the new regulation "unacceptable." 

"The discrimination from insurance companies to discrimination from employers who want to use religious exceptions and deny people fundamental basic healthcare is unacceptable to me," said Booker.  "It shows you how much further we have to go to stop the backsliding of this administration, but more importantly to advance and gained ground until we have equal health care access for all."  

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told the group she would aim to protect trans kids "as if they were my own," and that starts with protecting and expanding their health care needs. 

"I want other Democrats to be put on notice that these are issues they need to lead on. And that's why we introduced the most comprehensive platform for LGBTQ+ Americans, taking on the issues of health care, safety and security, anti-discrimination, banning conversion therapy, allowing an 'X' gender marker for anyone, for birth certificates, for driver's license," she said. 

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, who has built his campaign on his signature "Medicare for All" proposal, touted his bona fides on trans issues.

"Quite early on I was a supporter of the LGBT community. It is also a record and an agenda that speaks, not that just to the trans community, but to the American people."

Criminal Justice/Trans Violence

Transgender people are often targeted in acts of violence or abuse because of their gender identity or presentation. And sometimes that comes at the hands of the law enforcement authorities entrusted with their safety. As a result, many trans individuals are reluctant to rely on them for help.

According to NCTE's 2015 US Transgender Survey, a majority (57%) of transgender people are afraid to go to the police when they need it.

Booker, a Newark native, said he would build upon former President Obama's efforts to standardize guidelines for "21st century policing" to address poor relations between police and the trans community.

"I would want to do more than that, to start focusing and pulling together folks who make recommendations when it comes to the LGBTQ community in general and policing and then start to look at federal prisons," Booker said. 

The senator pointed out that the trans community "is being disproportionately targeted with heinous acts of violence." He said he would counter the Trump administration's removal of trans protections by the Justice Department and would provide appropriate training for police officers. 

"I will be a president that is a very aggressive in calling out these issues and putting forward the best of who we are to stop this kind of targeting, harassment, violence and murder," Booker said. 

Sanders vowed to fight discrimination "in all of its forms." 

"I know that the trans community has been — in sometimes very violent and deadly ways — been a victim of that hatred," Sanders said. "So we will provide all of the legal protection that we possibly can to protect the trans community and to protect anybody else who was being subjected to hate crimes and bullying."

He said his administration would provide financial resources and legal help to police departments around the country "to make them very sensitive to this issue." 

While light on detail, Gillibrand said in order to address the overwhelming amount of violence toward LGBTQ Americans, "we can raise up those stories so more people can have compassion, can have empathy and can understand that this is a human right that has to be protected."

"That's what the presidency is about. Changing the conversation in a country when it needs to change and bringing people along with you," Gillibrand said. 

Military service

An estimated 134,000 American veterans are transgender, and over 15,000 trans people are serving in military today. While support for transgender veterans has improved, trans military members still face barriers on the front lines, since the Trump administration's controversial policy of stopping transgender troops from serving openly in the military went into effect earlier this year. 

The Pentagon has blocked the use of miltary or homeland security resources to fund sex reassignment surgical procedures, and transgender servicemembers face challenges in obtaining service and medical records that do not reveal they're transgender.

Sen. Gillibrand, an ardent supporter of Americans in military service, slammed the president's Pentagon policies and his own lack of military service.

"A man who has never served has told men and women that their service is not worthy, based on their gender identity. I can't think of a more discriminatory, outrageous statement," she told NCTE. Gillibrand, an early supporter of repealing the Clinton-era "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy barring LBGTQ service members from openly serving, tried to separate herself from the field by pointing to her work on bipartisan legislation to help the trans community. 

"I created the climate where there was no room to be against our LGBTQ+ service members by talking about their bravery, talking about their commitment, talking about the fact that more than a thousand were being lost in mission critical areas because of the discriminatory policy. The fact that they'd lost 10% of our foreign language speakers because of DADT. And so I'll apply the same strategy of changing the climate of the conversation," said Gillibrand.