CNN's LGBTQ Town Hall

By Veronica Rocha and Brandon Tensley, CNN

Updated 12:37 a.m. ET, October 11, 2019
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12:01 a.m. ET, October 11, 2019

Klobuchar says she supports a third gender marker option

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she would recognize a third gender marker option on a federal level.

"Yes... I will," she said. "And I think there's also — you know, I think that there is a lot of work we need to do, all over the country, with driver's licenses as you know, not every state has some of the provisions that California have in place and just work on a state-by-state basis to make those changes."

Why this matters: Members of the non-binary community, or people who reject traditional gender binaries such as "man" or "woman," would be able to choose X on important documents, such as birth certificates.

At least five states allow non-binary people to choose X as their gender on their birth certificates.

Klobuchar went on to say presidents should play a big role in recognizing how people identify themselves.

"You want to be able to bring people in. We have a President right now in the White House who spends his time dividing people in any way he can. Every single morning he writes a tweet going after someone, going after people of color, going after immigrants, going after transpeople. It just never stops. And so I think it's going to be just a complete change to have a new president in place. That's putting it mildly. And just changing that culture and changing the tone of our politics, and part of that will be educating people about people's identities and what's happened and where they are because he sure isn't doing that," she said.
11:01 p.m. ET, October 10, 2019

Klobuchar: Conversion therapy should be illegal

From CNN's Dan Merica

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Thursday that so-called conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice that seeks to change to sexual orientation of gays, lesbians and bisexuals, should be illegal because it “makes no sense at all.”

“Yes,” Klobuchar said when asked whether she will ban these practices. “We know this isn’t the right thing to do.”

So-called conversion therapies, sometimes referred to as reparative treatments, centers on the debunked assumption that sexual orientation can be changed by a series of procedures. The practice is widely decried and leads to significant childhood traumas.

The questions came from Seth Owens, who was forced into conversation therapy when his parents discovered his sexual orientation. He went on to be the valedictorian of his high school and was accepted to Georgetown University.

“What I’m amazed about you, Seth, is you somehow got through this and are a hero to so many other young LGBTQ community members,” Klobuchar said. “We’ve all seen some of the things that are going on, bad practices, bad policies. But you also have acceptance in a community that’s going to be so important so for me a lot of that is holding up people like Andrea Jenkins. It is role models. It is education. And it is making sure that we fight it at every level. Yes, at the federal level but also the state and local levels.”

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke also said Thursday that conversion therapy “should be illegal” because it is “tantamount to torture.”

11:50 p.m. ET, October 10, 2019

O’Rourke: Conversion therapy "should be illegal" because it is "tantamount to torture"

From CNN's Dan Merica

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke said Thursday that conversion therapy, a widely discredited practice that seeks to change the sexual orientation of gays, lesbians and bisexuals, “should be illegal” because it is “tantamount to torture.”

“As president, we will seek to outlaw it everywhere in this country,” O’Rourke said Thursday at CNN’s LGBTQ town hall. “In my opinion this is tantamount to torture. Torture that we’re visiting on children who are absolutely defenseless.”

So-called conversion therapies, sometimes referred to as reparative treatments, centers on the debunked assumption that sexual orientation can be changed by a series of procedures. The practice is widely decried.

“So we’re going to make sure that whatever the penalty is, it is steep enough to dissuade anybody from entering into this practice or being able to torture kids with the kind of impunity that we have seen so far,” O’Rourke said. “And we’re also going to recognize that these kind of practices, in addition to the immediate torture that that child or that person feels also adds to other challenges that we have.”

A series of states have made conversation therapy illegal.

In a recent study by The Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law, scholars estimated that some 16,000 LGBTQ youth, ages 13 to 17, would receive conversion therapy from a health care professional before the age of 18 and another 57,000 youth will get that treatment from a religious or spiritual advisor.

That is happening despite the fact that polls have found that more than 50% of Americans support making conversion therapy on youth illegal.

The Williams Institute estimates that some 698,000 LGBT Americans have received conversion therapy at some point in their lives. You can read their report on the topic here:


10:14 p.m. ET, October 10, 2019

O'Rourke: Religious institutions should lose tax-exempt status for same-sex marriage opposition

From CNN's Eric Bradner

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Beto O’Rourke said Thursday that religious institutions should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage.

“There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights or the full civil rights of every single one of us,” the former Texas congressman said at CNN’s Equality Town Hall in Los Angeles.

He added: “And so as president, we are going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

It was the same question that New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker had refused to offer a yes-or-no answer to earlier in the town hall.

10:29 p.m. ET, October 10, 2019

Kamala Harris vows to tackle homelessness among LGBTQ youth

From CNN's Maeve Reston

At a time when income inequality is at the highest point in the 50 years, Kamala Harris touted her plans Thursday night to address the rise in homelessness among LGBT youth --a long-standing problem in the community that has been aggravated by soaring housing costs.

“It is one of the biggest issues that we are not talking enough about,” the California senator said when asked about LGBTQ homelessness.

“And it is not just in San Francisco and New York. It’s in places like Manchester, New Hampshire.”

The California senator touted her Rent Relief Act, which would provide a tax credit for people who spend 30% or more of their income on rent and utilities. Harris has also joined forces with California Rep. Maxine Waters on her proposal aimed at ending chronic homelessness. The legislation would direct more than $13 billion toward building supportive housing over the next five years and funding more federal vouchers for Americans at risk of losing their homes.

LGBTQ advocates have pressed Democratic candidates to pay more attention to the increasing numbers of young LGBTQ people who are either on the brink of homelessness or living on the streets. Los Angeles, for example, saw a 24% jump in youth homelessness this year—and some estimate that LGBTQ youth make up as much as 40% of that total.

Here in LA, where CNN’s Equality Town Halls are taking place, the LA LGBT Center in Hollywood is taking a novel approach as part of their effort to help at-risk members of the LGBTQ community reach full employment. Earlier this year, they opened a culinary arts program in partnership with LA chefs who are teaching at-risk LGBT students -- both youth and seniors -- the art of French cooking.

CNN profiled one of the culinary program’s recent graduates, 25-year-old Gabriel Rondon, who identifies as trans and moved to LA from Texas because he didn’t want to conform to the culture in his small town. He found himself in a hopeless and terrifying position after he was evicted, because he couldn’t afford his rent. He found his passion in the culinary program and hopes to open his own non-profit restaurant some day—one that would serve anyone who is hungry, even if they were unable to pay.

10:18 p.m. ET, October 10, 2019

An audience member asked Harris about transgender murders. Here's how she responded

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

A member of the audience interrupted California Sen. Kamala Harris Thursday night and pleaded for assistance in addressing the deaths of more than a dozen transgender people.

The audience member shouted questions to Harris as she stood on stage at the town hall in Los Angeles:

"How do we get those men to stop killing us? How de we get those men to stop killing trans women of color? We are hunted. Systematically hunted. How can they do that?" the audience member shouted.

Last year, the Human Rights Campaign tracked the murders of at least 26 transgender people. This year, that tally is already at 18.

Harris took a moment to speak directly to the audience member.

She said "there has to be serious consequence and accountability when it happens which means there needs to be a safe place for the members of our transgender community to go when they have been exposed to that kind of harm and we know there's not always a safe place."

Harris noted that as San Francisco district attorney, she established a hate crimes unit within her office, in part to give transgender and LGBTQ people a safe place to report crimes against them. Harris also touted her record as California attorney general, both in joining efforts to abolish gay and transgender “panic defenses” in criminal trials; and in pressing for same-sex marriage. She noted that as the state attorney general, she refused to defend Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. (Ultimately, when gay marriage became legal, she presided over some of the first marriages of same-sex couples at San Francisco City Hall).


10:00 p.m. ET, October 10, 2019

Harris: "We will end HIV/AIDS" within a generation

From CNN's Dan Merica

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

California Sen. Kamala Harris said that she, as president, would make ending HIV/AIDS within a generation a priority, telling an audience on Thursday that she learned about the impact of the impact of the virus from her first campaign manager.

“We need to deal with it in the context of having a commitment. My commitment: Within a generation we will end HIV/AIDS,” Harris said.

Harris, in response to a question about the impact HIV/AIDS have on black Americans, went on to say she would “pay attention to who has access, who has the ability, who has the resources to benefit from all that is available to prevent, right, or to mitigate the effects” of HIV/AIDS.

Harris reflected on how much she learned about racial discrepancies around HIV/AIDs from Jim Rivaldo, her former campaign manager who also worked for Harvey Milk, the famed first elected official in California who identified as gay. Rivaldo died in 2007 after a lengthy battle with AIDS, hepatitis C, liver cancer and diabetes, according to The Bay Area Reporter.

He was “an extraordinary person who always would talk about Bay Area, about the coalition and he would always talk about the need to recognize that within the community there are real hierarchies based on race,” Harris recalled.

9:36 p.m. ET, October 10, 2019

Warren says she was wrong to oppose trans prisoner’s surgery appeal

From CNN's Gregory Krieg

Edward M. PioRoda/CNN
Edward M. PioRoda/CNN

Elizabeth Warren said on Thursday night that she was wrong, in 2012, to say “I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars” to pay for a transgender inmate’s gender confirmation surgery.

Asked by Chris Cuomo if she regretted that remark, the Massachusetts senator answered simply, “Yup.”

“It was a bad answer,” she said. “And I believe that everyone is entitled to medical care and medical care they need. And that includes people who are transgender who, it is the time for them to have gender affirming surgery. I just think that’s important.”

It’s not the first time Warren has been asked about the comment. In January, her presidential campaign in a statement to ThinkProgress, spelled out her new position.

“Senator Warren supports access to medically necessary services, including transition-related surgeries,” the campaign said. “This includes procedures taking place at the VA, in the military, or at correctional facilities.”

9:30 p.m. ET, October 10, 2019

Warren touts power of LGBTQ vote

From CNN's Maeve Reston

Elizabeth Warren tackled the difficult question of how Democrats could achieve the passage of the Equality Act, which has been passed by the Democrat-led House but has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, by touting the growing power of the LGBTQ vote.

Keeping it real on the fact that the Equality Act is going nowhere as long as Mitch McConnell is the Senate majority leader, Warren first noted that America is going to have to elect more Democrats to the Senate if they want to see passage. (The legislation would protect members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination in the workplace, in housing, in healthcare and many other parts of their life).

“I’m going to be blunt; we’ve got to have some more Democrats in the Senate,” Warren said. “I say that for two reasons, partly because the Democratic Party has made it clear, this is an issue, this is a priority for us. We believe that equal means equal everywhere. I also say it because I want our Republican friends to hear that in the United States Senate. I want them to know that people vote based on LGBTQ issues.”

“So I’m willing to continue to push Mitch McConnell right now,” Warren said. “But my number one goal is to make sure he is not the majority leader come January 2020,” she said to applause.

The Human Rights Campaign estimates that there are now at least 11 million LGBTQ voters across America. They also worked with the data-analytics firm Catalist to identify some 57 million so-called “equality voters” who support an agenda of inclusion. You can read more about their data here: