Editor’s Note: Alphonso David, an LGBTQ civil rights lawyer and advocate, is the president of the Human Rights Campaign. Follow him on Twitter @AlphonsoDavid. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
For lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies, the 2020 presidential election will be the most important election of our lives.
Over the last two years, the Trump administration has rescinded key protections for transgender students, appointed two new anti-equality justices to the US Supreme Court, banned transgender troops from serving openly in the military, and repeatedly pushed policies that would open the door to discrimination against LGBTQ people in healthcare, housing, public accommodations and other aspects of life under the guise of “religious liberty.”
Despite campaigning on a promise to be a “real friend” to the LGBTQ community, Donald Trump designated Mike Pence (who has previously called homosexuality “a choice”) as his vice president. And Trump has been outspoken about his opposition to bipartisan federal civil rights legislation – the Equality Act – which overwhelmingly passed through the US House of Representatives this year and, if signed into law, would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Against this backdrop, on Thursday the Human Rights Campaign Foundation will join forces with CNN for a historic Democratic presidential town hall devoted to issues crucial to the LGBTQ community. On the eve of National Coming Out Day, this town hall will be the first time a major cable news network airs a presidential event devoted to LGBTQ issues.
The 2020 presidential election will determine whether the Trump administration’s attacks on LGBTQ rights are allowed to continue – or whether we begin the work of restoring our democracy. And while the stakes couldn’t be higher, for LGBTQ people in particular, there also could not be a greater opportunity to make change.
Over the past several election cycles, LGBTQ people and our allies have been exerting more and more political power – dramatically altering the political landscape.
Today, there are 11 million LGBTQ voters estimated nationwide who will play a decisive role in the upcoming elections. We have also identified 57 million “Equality Voters” – friends, family members and other allies who prioritize LGBTQ-inclusive policies when deciding which candidates to support.
During the 2018 midterm elections, the Human Rights Campaign successfully worked to mobilize Equality Voters in key races across the country. In fact, Equality Voters accounted for 29% of the electorate in 2018, making it one of the most substantial voting blocs in the election. Turnout among Equality Voters increased from 36% in the 2014 midterm elections to 56 percent in 2018. This trend is only expected to continue in 2020.
LGBTQ people and our allies played a key role in pushing candidates over the finish line in dozens of races with groundbreaking consequences.
Specifically, Equality Voters helped protect the Senate’s first out LGBTQ member, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, and elect another out member, Senator Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona. Equality Voters helped elect and re-elect governors who are working to enact critical non-discrimination protections, outlawing the dangerous and abusive practice of so-called “conversion therapy,” and acting as a powerful backstop against anti-LGBTQ state legislation. And Equality Voters helped restore a pro-equality majority in the House of Representatives that passed the Equality Act.
This is part of a growing trend. In 2016, LGBTQ voters and our allies helped oust former North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory after he signed into law a draconian anti-LGBTQ bill known as HB2. According to a CNN exit poll, 65% of 2016 North Carolina voters opposed the law. During Alabama’s special election in 2017, the coalition built by groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the NAACP played a role in defeating anti-LGBTQ zealot Roy Moore and electing Doug Jones to the US Senate.
With so much at stake in 2020, we are eager to hear how these candidates will fight for full federal equality, defend the fundamental rights of LGBTQ people and protect the most vulnerable – both here and around the globe – from stigma, institutional inequality, discrimination and violence. But at its core, the participation of these top-tier candidates and the platform provided by a major cable news network underscore the importance of LGBTQ issues and the power of our votes.
Fifty years ago, when the first brick was thrown at Stonewall and the modern LGBTQ-rights movement was born, few could have imagined ten candidates for president competing for the support of the LGBTQ community. But as recent years have shown, increasing support for equality means our movement is no longer limited to organizing and mobilizing self-identified LGBTQ people. The rising Equality Vote has the potential to put LGBTQ issues at the center of electoral decision-making and activism – both in 2020 and beyond. Thursday’s town hall is a testament to just how far we have come.