Election season is nigh. The latest sign? Presidential hopefuls have descended upon Iowa, where the Iowa caucuses, the first major contest in a long election season, are slated to be held in only a few months. Convince Iowans, and you might just have a shot at convincing the rest of the country that you’re worthy of taking up residence at the White House. But beyond crowding the midwestern state and giving stump speeches, hopefuls have been canvassing the country, giving as many interviews as possible, and rolling out campaign platforms left and right, trying to differentiate themselves from the competition.
For former Representative Beto O’Rourke this comes in the form of a newly released an LGBTQ rights platform that he hopes will be the boost his campaign desperately needs.
Dropped early on Wednesday, June 12, just before he led a New York City Pride fun run, O’Rourke’s platform promises protections for the LGBTQ community across the U.S., an expansion of rights, and an end to many of the Trump administration’s most virulently anti-LGBTQ policies.
So, what exactly does O’Rourke’s LGBTQ platform cover? We break it down.
What is O’Rourke proposing?
Here is what O’Rourke wants to do:
- Overturn Trump’s trans military ban.
- Pass the Equality Act, a bipartisan bill which would extend civil rights to LGBTQ people on a federal level. Currently, LGBTQ individuals are not protected under the Civil Rights Act, so discrimination protections are determined on a state-by-state basis.
- Pass the Every Child Deserves A Family Act, which prevents discrimination against LGBTQ people who want to adopt or foster children by stripping federal funding from any agency that discriminates.
- Reverse the “deploy or get out” policy, which removes military members who are unable to deploy for 12 months or more from service; critics say this unfairly targets HIV-positive members.
- Bring back the Obama-era Dept. of Justice and Dept. of Education guidance to protect transgender students.
- “Protect LGBTQ+ youth from conversion therapy by tasking the FTC to tackle false advertising or other unfair business practices that promote the discredited practice of conversion therapy.”
- Put money towards researching current blood donation policies that target gay and bisexual men.
- Overturn Trump-era decision not to include LGBTQ people in the U.S. Census.
- Create a universal health care system “with explicit protections against discrimination and bans on exclusions for transition-related care” and preventing “price gouging by drug companies” on essential drugs most often used in the LGBTQ community, such as PrEP.
- Tie federal funding to “local law enforcement agencies with the implementation of anti-discrimination and anti-profiling policies.”
- Create a Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQ People in the State Department.
- Reinstate the Bureau of Prisons’ “Transgender Offender Manual” to ensure safe housing for transgender people in BOP custody.
- Modernize laws to allow people to more easily update their name and gender on identifying documents.
O’Rourke’s platform attempts to not just create a federal level of protection and rights for the LGBTQ community in the U.S. but also hopes to advance LGBTQ rights globally. He also specifically calls out the need to protect trans women of color, arguably some of the most vulnerable people in the U.S.
How would he enact these proposals?
Sounds like a lot. How the hell would Beto get this done?
O’Rourke’s platform relies heavily on executive actions. But that’s not the only way he says he’ll enact his platform. His approach will be three-pronged:
- Using executive authority, such as executive orders and guidances (such as the Obama-era guidance on enforcing current civil rights law to protect transgender kids).
- Working with Congress on pro-LGBTQ legislation, like the Equality Act.
- Working with allies and nonprofits to brainstorm and enact ways to protect the LGBTQ community across the globe.
Why is he focusing on LGBTQ rights?
In a statement announcing the plan, O’Rourke says, “Members of the LGBTQ+ community still lack comprehensive legal protections, and they face risks to their safety and security every day—in school, at work, and in their communities. Today, in more states than not, you can marry the person you love on a Saturday and risk losing your job for it by Monday morning with no protection under state law. In more than half the country, LGBTQ+ people still risk eviction or denial of housing without explicit legal recourse. Across the country, transgender Americans, especially those of color, face alarming rates of violence.”
Further, he explained, now is a particularly important time to enact an LGBTQ rights platform, no thanks to the Trump administration. In our explainer on fellow primary candidate Elizabeth Warren’s LGBTQ platform, we outlined some of the anti-LGBTQ moves the Trump administration has made since they took over in 2017:
- Appointed numerous anti-LGBTQ judges to lifetime positions in federal courts around the country.
- Withdrew from the lawsuit fighting North Carolina’s infamous anti-trans bathroom bill.
- Created a hostile work environment for LGBTQ employees at the Justice Department.
- Dismantled LGBTQ-focused health initiatives at the Department of Health and Human Services, including creating a new “religious liberty division” which defends health workers who refuse to work with LGBTQ patients.
- Stopped collecting health data on LGBTQ youth in foster care.
- Strengthened a 2018 rule allowing health workers to refuse to work with LGBTQ patients under the guise of religious liberty.
- Openly opposed the Equality Act.
- Withdrew a 2016 guidance requiring schools to protect transgender students under Title IX.
- Ended the Obama-era bathroom guidance, meaning transgender students can be forced to use the bathroom aligning with the sex they were assigned at birth, putting them at risk of harassment and violence.
- Cut $250 million of funding from Global Fund and $1.5 billion from PEPFAR, two nonprofits which are essential to fighting HIV/AIDS
- Fired the entire White House HIV/AIDS Council.
- Withdrew federal guidance barring anti-LGBTQ discrimination at homeless shelters in 2017; the guidance also required shelters to house trans folks consistent with their gender identity.
- Granted an exemption to adoption and foster care agencies in South Carolina who do not want to work with LGBTQ individuals and couples.
- Changed rules in federal prisons to adopt a policy of housing transgender inmates with populations matching the sex they were assigned at birth.
Is it enough?
This isn’t the first proposal O’Rourke has released, but rather his fifth, including climate change, immigration, voting rights, and reproductive rights. Similar to his other plans, his LGBTQ rights plan uses a lot of positive, visionary language, but it’s short on the actual details. For example: how would a Democratic president work with a Congress whose Senate will, in all likelihood, still hold a Republican majority and be led by stonewalling expert Senator Mitch McConnell?
Further, though he covers all manner of issues affecting not just the white, cis members of the community, there are some key issues left unaddressed —similar to criticism of Warren’s LGBTQ rights plan. There is mention of the criminal justice system; O’Rourke did learn from Warren’s gaffe by addressing the intersection between criminal justice reform and the LGBTQ community. Additionally, there’s nothing in his policy to address decriminalizing sex work, which is an essential part of securing safety for the LGBTQ community.
Finally, a fair amount of O’Rourke’s plan’s language is milquetoast at best. He would put money towards researching current blood donation policies that target gay and bisexual men. He would task the FTC with preventing false advertising about conversion therapy. Warren — to compare O’Rourke to the only other Democratic primary candidate who has an official LGBTQ rights platform — has promised to lift the discriminatory blood ban and outlaw conversion therapy. Washington Governor Jay Inslee, another primary candidate hopeful, doesn’t have an official LGBTQ platform, but he outlawed conversion therapy in Washington state. There’s really no need for O’Rourke to tip-toe around issues here.
That said, one thing O’Rourke addresses very well, which we haven’t seen much of from other candidates, is the need to name and fight ongoing violence and discrimination toward transgender individuals — in particular, trans women of color.
In other words: it’s a mostly-good mixed bag when it comes to O’Rourke’s platform, but he’s still doing impressive work to address a shameful lack of federal protections for LGBTQ individuals in the U.S. and the world over.