Sen. Kamala Harris answered a question about having denied gender affirmation surgery to transgender inmates when she was California's Attorney General, saying that she worked "behind the scenes" to change the policy.
Harris, who has a long history of support for marriage equality and who led a charge to abolish gay and trans “panic” defenses, was called on by moderator Lyz Lenz of The Gazette during the LGBTQ Presidential Forum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday to answer for what many consider to be a black mark on Harris’s LGBTQ record.
“During your time as Attorney General in California, you did send a brief seeking to deny gender affirmation surgery for trans inmates. You stated that at the time you were just enforcing the existing law,” Lenz said. “But with this history, how can trans people trust that you’ll advocate for them and not just enforce discriminatory laws?”
"When that case came up, I had clients, and one of them was the California Department of Corrections. It was their policy. When I learned about what they were doing, behind the scenes, I got them to change the policy,” Harris said.
“I commit to you that always in these systems there are going to be these things that these agencies do. And I will commit myself, as I always have, to dealing with it,” Harris said.
The senator then discussed the case of Gwen Araujo — a trans woman murdered during Harris’s tenure as district attorney in San Francisco — whose killer used the “panic” defense.
“It was a tragic killing and it’s about the crimes that continue to happen against our transgender brothers and sisters. What was happening, which is still happening, are these murders around the country,” Harris said. “And what the person who did the killing would argue when they got to court after being charged, they would use this bogus thing called the gay panic defense.”
“As district attorney, I convened for the first time in our nation’s history, prosecutors from around the country to come to San Francisco where I taught them how to defeat the gay panic defense,” she added of her record.
The LGBTQ forum, co-hosted by GLAAD, One Iowa, The Gazette, and The Advocate, features a discussion of LGBTQ issues with Biden, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Pennsylvania representative Joe Sestak, U.S Senator Elizabeth Warren, and author Marianne Williamson.