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Here's Why LGBTQ+ Groups Are Calling Out the GOP Debate Moderators

Here's Why LGBTQ+ Groups Are Calling Out the GOP Debate Moderators

Sarah Kate Ellis and Ron DeSantis

The organizations note that any discussion of LGBTQ+ issues was negative and targeted trans youth.

LGBTQ+ activists are lambasting the moderators of Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee for devoting so little time to queer issues — and the candidates for punching down on transgender youth when the topics did come up.

“The sole question from the moderators on LGBTQ issues misgendered transgender girls, calling them ‘biological boys,’” GLAAD pointed out in a press release. The question came from Fox News' Martha McCallum, who noted that former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley had called the participation of “biological boys” in women’s sports “the women’s rights issue of our time” and that North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum had signed anti-trans sports bans into law although there had been no instance of a trans youth wanting to take part in school sports in the state.

Burgum responded, “In North Dakota, we made a priority of protecting women’s sports.” Haley then said, “There’s a lot of crazy woke things happening in schools,” added that she’d always fight for girls — as if trans inclusion were the greatest threat they face or a threat at all.

Later, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said, “If God made you a man, you play sports against men.” And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took advantage of a question about student test scores to say, “We need education in this country, not indoctrination,” and bragged about Florida banning critical race theory — an academic concept not used in K-12 schools anyway — and “gender ideology.”

“It is unconscionable, during this time of sharply increased anti-LGBTQ violence and threats — propelled by rhetoric from extremist politicians, Fox News, and many of these candidates — that the debate moderators offered up only one clumsy question about our community, and zero questions about the real issues facing the LGBTQ community,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in the release. “The candidates were not asked about upholding marriage equality, about protecting LGBTQ students in school, about access to proven lifesaving healthcare for transgender people, about the record-breaking 500-plus anti-LGBTQ bills this year, about violence against LGBTQ people and allies, or about the warped priority of demonizing drag queens and LGBTQ books instead of going after the leading cause of death for young people in this country: guns. Instead moderators took the opportunity to misgender and insult transgender student athletes.”

“Last night we heard from some of the most notorious anti-LGBTQ+ presidential candidates who are waging a dangerous war on our community,” Megin McDonell, executive director of Fair Wisconsin, added in the release. “From attacking transgender youth to threatening our bodily autonomy and freedom to vote, these extremists are using lies to divide us and turn us against each other as they attempt to obtain power. We must reject their dangerous lies about the LGBTQ+ community and push back against any politician who seeks to distract from their failure to deliver for all our families. There’s no debate about it — Wisconsinites have a proven track record of rejecting extremism at the ballot box, and we’ll do it again in November of 2024.”

GLAAD and Fair Wisconsin offered moderators questions for the candidates, including whether they support marriage equality, what they’d do to support LGBTQ+ and allied Americans rather than politicize them, and why there’s such a huge focus across the country in banning gender-affirming health care for trans youth instead of addressing gun violence. The groups noted the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and the recent fatal shooting of California merchant Lauri Carleton, a straight ally, because she had displayed a Pride flag at her store.

They suggested those questions for all candidates and also submitted queries for certain individual ones. These included asking Haley where she got the information that led her to assert that trans visibility is to blame for teenage girls’ suicidal ideation, which comes from no known study; if Scott could put aside his anti-LGBTQ+ views to protect LGBTQ+ Americans’ legal rights; if former Vice President Mike Pence, who has vowed to reinstate the trans military ban if he becomes president, would do so given that military leaders oppose it; what DeSantis would say to a teenager affected by Florida’s “don’t say gay or trans” law; and if Vivek Ramaswamy, who supports a national ban on gender-affirming care for trans minors, has ever talked with parents of trans youth about the issue.

The Human Rights Campaign likewise denounced the debate’s tone, noting in a press release that “extremist Republican candidates continued attacking and maligning transgender kids to score political points with the most extreme and radical portions of their base, while offering no solutions to fix real challenges facing students and families across the country.”

“We, the American people, are better than what we saw tonight,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said in the release. “We saw the Republican field punching down on queer and transgender kids to score political points. Just to be clear: that strategy might work with the far right extremists, but it won’t get you to the White House. Voters are tired of distractions, lies, culture wars, and dog whistles — they’re looking for real leadership.

“It’s time for real solutions to address challenges in the education system, to solve the climate crisis — but instead, extremist candidates again pivoted toward attacking transgender students, amplifying the same tired, hateful, and divisive rhetoric we’ve seen time and again. While these extremists made it crystal clear tonight that they’re doubling down on running the same playbook they ran in 2022, we’re also making it clear that we’re ready to drive voter turnout that, once again, shatters records and shatters any delusions these extremists have of becoming president.

“This is the moment we need our allies to stand with us, to collectively make our voices heard. As LGBTQ+ people are living in a state of emergency, and as increasing hostility and violence continues threatening our community and allies like Laura Ann Carleton, it’s time to send a clear message that an extremist, hateful vision for America has no place in America.”

Vice President Kamala Harris also released a statement condemning the Republican candidates as “extremists” focusing on “unnecessary debates meant to divide our nation.”

“No one on stage ‘won’ tonight’s debate. Instead, the American people heard how much they stand to lose from an extremist agenda,” she said.

“One by one, each extremist Republican candidate laid out a vision for an America that is less fair, less free, and less safe. These candidates want to raise costs for working families in order to benefit special interests and the ultra-wealthy. To gut Social Security and Medicare. To strip fundamental rights and basic freedoms from millions of people. And to reverse the Bidenomics strategy that has helped create 13 million jobs, the strongest two years of small business creation in history, and record-low unemployment.

“These extremists focus on unnecessary debates meant to divide our nation in hopes that the American public will not notice they have no affirmative agenda.

“President Biden and I will continue to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out and build a nation in which all people can truly thrive. We are laser-focused on finishing the job we’ve started: to create good jobs, lower costs, fix America’s roads and bridges, create a clean energy economy, protect a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, keep our children safe from gun violence, and make sure all Americans can dream about their future with ambition and aspiration.”

Pictured, from left: GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

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