Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
As a queer American, I’ve never felt like I have a choice between being a Democrat or a Republican. Given that the Republican Party tends to be socially conservative and has demonstrated that it values the protection of religious freedom over the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it’s not particularly surprising that LGBTQ Americans largely vote Democratic.
In 2018, 82 percent of LGBTQ voters chose the Democratic candidates running to represent their district in the House of Representatives, up six percentage points from 2012. And in 2018, 63 percent of LGBTQ voters identified as Democrats, compared to 10 percent Republican and 27 percent Independent.
So why did the Human Rights Campaign have to host a presidential town hall on its own to get Democratic primary candidates to explicitly address LGBTQ issues? The Democratic Party takes LGBTQ voters for granted because we have few other viable political options.
Just a few days after the second Democratic primary debate, NBC outlined the few times candidates mentioned LGBTQ issues throughout the first two debates. CNN moderators did not ask a single LGBTQ-specific question, which is shameful by itself, but the candidates themselves also rarely brought up the LGBTQ community.
I know this is the point where a conservative reader is going to stop reading, copy and paste my email address into a new message and begin to berate me for thinking “niche” LGBTQ issues should be talked about during a national debate.
But here’s the thing — LGBTQ issues are national issues. Issues like health care access, gun control and education affect both the larger population and the LGBTQ community, just in different ways. When we talk about creating anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, we are expanding access to basic human rights that should already be extended to all people in this nation.
This isn’t a new problem. In the book Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America, political scientist Paul Frymer argues that, from its creation, the two-party system in the U.S. has made African Americans a “captured minority.”
Basically, this means politicians spend most of their time appealing to white swing voters instead of marginalized groups, because it’s assumed that particular minority communities will vote for a specific party. Frymer says other groups, such as LGBTQ people and the Christian right, have also become “captured minorities” in contemporary politics. Captured minorities are taken for granted because parties know they have few options on the political landscape — they don’t bother spending resources or time demonstrating that their concerns are a priority for the party.
Similarly, even though NBC and CNN are generally sympathetic to liberal social causes, and LGBTQ issues are often marked as a part of the “leftist agenda,” these outlets don’t prioritize these issues any more than the Democratic Party does as a whole.
During HRC’s “Power of Our Pride” town hall, a black transgender woman named Blossom C. Brown took the mic to proclaim to the audience that CNN has often neglected to dedicate coverage to the murders of black trans women and had failed to give trans people of color a voice at the event. At least 19 transgender women have been murdered so far in 2019, and at least 26 were killed in 2018. And yet, CNN — which broadcasted the town hall — reportedly silenced another black trans woman who was originally scheduled to ask a question during the town hall.
LGBTQ voters are taken for granted in the political landscape. It’s the reason presidential candidates aren’t asked LGBTQ-specific questions at debates, the reason the Human Rights Campaign had to host an event on its own to get these questions addressed and the reason most mainstream media outlets fail to cover news that matters to our community. The Democratic Party needs to do more for its LGBTQ constituents.
Liyanga de Silva is a senior English and women’s studies major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.