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Last night’s vice presidential debate featured a lot of crosstalk, passive-aggressive jabs, and Pence straight up lying that his abortion policies don’t “punish” women. However, by the end of the debate, exhausted viewers were left wondering: Where the hell were the questions about LGBT rights?
Note: You can be a viciously anti-LGBT candidate who’s one chunk of Trump steak away from the Presidency, and nobody will ask you about it.
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) October 5, 2016
Most of the frustration stemmed from Gov. Mike Pence’s notoriously conservative views on LGBT issues. Earlier this year, Pence signed a “religious freedom” law that many feared would allow businesses to discriminate against people for their sexual orientation and gender identity, and only amended it after intense pressure.
In 2006, Pence argued that same-sex marriage would bring about “societal collapse” in Congress, and in 2009 was a vocal critic of a new hate-crimes law that expanded the definition of “hate crime” to include violence against others over perceived sexual orientation and gender identity because he worried it could curb religious free speech. He was also an advocate of conversion therapy in his 2000 run for Congress. As recently as 2013, Indiana passed a law making it a felony for same-sex couples to apply for a marriage license.
From 1991–1994, Pence was the president of the Indiana Policy Review, and during that time published a letter arguing that newspapers shouldn’t hire gay reporters. The article, which has no byline, asked, “Will a gay writing on gay issues be identified as would the owner of the local Ford dealership if he were to write on the issue of Fords?”
Even when Pence tries to be accepting, he fails. In a letter welcoming people to a Pride festival in Indiana in 2015, he failed to mention LGBT people at all.
Which brings us to why many LGBT advocates are upset that Pence wasn’t asked to defend his positions at the debate. Victory Fund President and CEO Aisha C. Moodie-Mills said in a statement, “Pence opposes recognition of our relationships, opposes LGBT soldiers serving openly in the military, and opposes prohibiting restaurants and other businesses from refusing service to LGBT customers. It is important the Trump campaign’s extremist anti-LGBT positions be exposed in future debates—along with its attacks on women, immigrants, Latinos, Muslims, and veterans recovering from war. Their entire campaign has been built on fear and bigotry, and we believe voters will reject their attempts to turn back the clock on progress.”
Tim Kaine also doesn’t have a super progressive history when comes to LGBT rights. While he came out in support of same-sex marriage in 2013, he used a lot of “relationship equality” language before then, and appeared to support civil unions instead of marriage for same-sex couples. However, earlier this year, Kaine signed a letter to Education Secretary John King, encouraging him to clarify that Title IX protects LGBT students, especially transgender students.
Kaine and Pence also weren’t pressed on the only LGBT issue they were asked about—abortion. According to research by the National LGBTQ Task Force, over a quarter of lesbian and bisexual women live in poverty and are more likely to rely on public health clinics, and trans men who seek abortions are more likely to experience hostility for it.
Jaya Saxena is a lifestyle writer and editor whose work focuses primarily on women's issues and web culture. Her writing has appeared in GQ, ELLE, the Toast, the New Yorker, Tthe Hairpin, BuzzFeed, Racked, Eater, Catapult, and others. She is the co-author of 'Dad Magazine,' the author of 'The Book Of Lost Recipes,' and the co-author of 'Basic Witches.'