Tom Daley
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Dem Debate's Big LGBTQ Question: Ellen DeGeneres and George W. Bush


It took until the last few minutes of Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate for LGBTQ people to be mentioned in any detail, but it wasn’t about workplace discrimination, violence against trans women, or any of the other pressing issues facing the community.

It was about Ellen DeGeneres’s defense of her friendship with former President George W. Bush, with DeGeneres saying she can be nice to him even though they disagree on many things. Anderson Cooper, one of the moderators of the debate on CNN, then asked participants if they could mention an instance of being friends with someone with whom they disagree.

Some of the answers were fairly boilerplate, with former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Sen. Bernie Sanders mentioning they worked with the late Republican Sen. John McCain, who was well-respected by members of both parties. Some mentioned Republican congressional colleagues much farther to the right — Sen. Cory Booker brought up Sens. Ted Cruz and James Inhofe, Sen. Kamala Harris mentioned Sen. Rand Paul, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard talked about former House member Trey Gowdy.

Gabbard noted that she is inspired by the example of President Abraham Lincoln, “who talked about how we should have malice for none and charity for all,” leading some Twitter commenters to wonder how she could invoke Lincoln along with Gowdy, who led a House committee that grilled Hillary Clinton for 11 hours about the attacks that took place in Benghazi, Libya, during her tenure as secretary of State. The hearing turned up no damning information on Clinton.

The congresswoman, who has sought to distance herself from anti-LGBTQ comments in her past, saying she no longer holds those views, pledged that if elected president she would show “respect for every American regardless of race, religion, orientation, gender, or political affiliation.” She also got in a dig at Clinton, who once called Donald Trump’s supporters “deplorables.” “When I look out at our country, I don't see deplorables, I see fellow Americans, people who I treat with respect, even when we disagree and when we disagree strongly,” Gabbard said.

Sanders, like Gabbard, mentioned orientation, saying, “We have got to end the hatred that Trump is fostering on our people, the divisiveness, trying to divide us up by the color of our skin or where we were born or our sexual orientation or our religion.”

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is gay, said he found commonality with people who hold differing political views while serving in the military. “They didn’t care if I was going home to a boyfriend or a girlfriend,” he said. “They didn't care what country my dad immigrated from and whether he was documented or not. We just learned to trust each other.”

Julian Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio and former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, hinted at some of the criticism heaped upon DeGeneres for being friendly with a president who campaigned against marriage equality and led the U.S. into a war based on false information. “I completely understood what she was saying about being kind to others,” he said. “I believe that we should be more kind to other folks. I also believe that we should hold people to account for what they've done, especially public servants who have a record of having done something or not done something. And I think that we can do both of those things. I think that we can be kind to people and also hold them accountable for their actions. And there are people, whether it’s our former president, George W. Bush, or others that should be held accountable.”

Others sharing tales of unlikely friendships were former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and businessmen Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang. Find a full transcript here.

The debate moderators got roasted by many tweeters for the DeGeneres-Bush question. Read some examples below.

There was even one from Castro himself:

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