LGBTQ groups want Pence to answer for his hateful record at vice presidential debate

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Pence must confront the harm he has caused the LGBTQ community during his vice presidency, advocacy groups say.

Thirteen LGBTQ and progressive advocacy groups are pushing for moderator Susan Page to question Vice President Mike Pence on how his actions have harmed the LGBTQ community at Wednesday's vice presidential debate.

In a letter obtained by Yahoo News, advocacy groups including the Human Rights Campaign, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, and the National Black Justice Coalition asked Page to prioritize the LGBTQ community while moderating the debate.

"In your role as moderator, we hope you will ensure the candidates for Vice President address the issues Americans care about," the letter's authors wrote to Page.

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The groups noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the LGBTQ community particularly hard. Studies have found that LGBTQ people face a greater risk of serious illness from contracting the virus, and as states reopen, the community continues to struggle with economic hardship.

The letter's authors outlined the White House's actions in rolling back LGBTQ rights during Donald Trump's first term in office. The Trump administration has stripped LGBTQ protections from the Affordable Care Act, and has tried to kill the law altogether, which would hurt LGBTQ people's already tenuous access to health care. The Trump administration also opposes the Equality Act, which would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.

Page should also be aware of Pence's anti-LGBTQ record before he became vice president, the advocates argued.

"As governor of Indiana, Pence led the charge to weaken LGBTQ protections and demonize and dehumanize our community," they wrote.

A key part of Pence's anti-LGBTQ record as governor was record his signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which advocates say allowed anti-LGBTQ discrimination to flourish in the state. In the 1990s, Pence opposed banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and said in an interview that being gay is a "choice."

"The great vast majority of the psychological community says homosexuality at a very minimum is a choice by the individual, and at the maximum, is a learned behavior," Pence said at the time.

Pence is well known for his rightwing Christian influence on the Trump administration, which has often meant attacking abortion access and LGBTQ rights. In September, Pence tweeted a photo of himself at the White House with members of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. Pence said he was "honored" to meet with them.

In their letter, the advocates pointed out that in 2016, none of the moderators asked Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Mike Pence, or Tim Kaine questions about the LGBTQ community during the presidential and vice presidential debates. During the eleven primary debates, moderators only asked three questions about the LGBTQ community.

Last September, ten Democratic presidential candidates gathered in Iowa to talk about LGBTQ rights at a forum hosted by LGBTQ advocacy groups, and CNN and the Human Rights Campaign hosted an LGBTQ Town Hall last October. However, these events had much lower viewership than the primary debates. The first Democratic debate of the 2020 election attracted 15.3 million viewers, compared to 1.4 million viewers for the CNN event.

Wednesday's vice presidential debate will be moving forward as scheduled, despite an outbreak of coronavirus at the White House over the weekend. On Friday morning, only a few hours after outlets reported that Hope Hicks, Trump's senior aide, tested positive for the virus, Trump tweeted that he and Melania Trump had also tested positive. Dozens of other Trump allies and White House staffers and visitors have since tested positive as well, including Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who is married to Katie Miller, an aide to Pence.

Pence has so far tested negative for the virus, according to Devin O'Malley, Pence's press secretary. Debate organizers have said they will implement increased safety measures at Wednesday night's event to protect the candidates, including installing plexiglass barriers between Pence and his opponent, Sen. Kamala Harris.

Initially, Pence's team had objected to the transparent barricades, stating that they did not think they were "medically necessary, however they later agreed to the decision, saying that "if Senator Harris feels safer to have two plexiglass dividers up, we have no objections," according to a debate official who spoke to the Washington Post on Tuesday.

This story was updated to include more recent details about the debate preparations and safety measures.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.