The Democratic LGBT Debate Is an Unhelpful Stunt

Gay rights activist waves a rainbow flag during a rally (Tyrone Siu/REUTERS)
The event is bound to be performative, not productive.

On March 19, news broke that Democratic presidential candidates will participate in a special debate exclusively focused on LGBT issues in October, right as the election heats up. According to progressive gay-news site The Advocate, this forum will focus on “on the lives and rights of LGBTQ people” and offer “a chance to educate the potential next president” on “the challenges still facing queer Americans.” This might sound nice to some, but it’s a miserable idea.

Like much of what’s pushed by progressive LGBT advocates, this forum is a purely symbolic gesture that exemplifies the natural consequences of identity politics run amok. Pleasant buzzwords aside, an LGBT-only presidential debate is entirely pointless and only serves to distract from more pressing issues. Worse, it inflates the reputation of hyper-partisan gay-advocacy organizations that often do more harm than good.

What exactly would be debated? It’s hard to imagine any potential Democratic challenger offering a dissenting viewpoint on issues like gay marriage or transgender inclusion in the military. If anything, this “debate” will likely devolve into a revolving cycle of virtue-signaling agreement, with each candidate competing to sound more sympathetic to the gay plight than the others. That’s not productive — it’s performative.

Indulging such identitarian excesses would come at a cost. After all, there is a finite number of debates to be had during a limited campaign season. So any debate dedicated exclusively to LGBT issues is a debate not dedicated to the opioid crisis, poverty, the national debt, or any of the other countless maladies plaguing our society. In a time when gay-marriage rights are settled law, assigning entire news cycles and presidential forums to “debate” the less significant LGBT issues still in contention seems, well, nonsensical.

Wouldn’t it be more important for Democrats to debate how they’re going to pay for the $93 trillion in “Green New Deal” proposals that many of the candidates have signed on to? Or perhaps they should discuss the merits of the barbaric and wildly unpopular practice of late-term abortion, which several Democratic challengers have recently refused to condemn? The Democratic base is actually somewhat divided on these issues, and could benefit from a debate that would clarify where each candidate stands.

Alas, such issues are certainly not what the party wants to draw attention to. Supporting this distraction disguised as an LGBT debate rewards that very misalignment of priorities that stresses identity politics over actual issues.

In reality, American issues are gay issues, because the biggest problems facing most gay people are the same problems facing most Americans. There’s something fundamentally paternalistic about the notion that gay people need their own special debate, as if the issues everyone else cares about aren’t at the forefront of our lives as well. This isn’t a precedent we want to set. Before long, we’ll have separate Democratic debates for every identity group under the sun — race, and gender, and so on. Will we eventually forgo talking about national issues altogether?

The (self-proclaimed) gay-rights organization Human Rights Campaign (HRC) will co-sponsor this debate, so the forum will also have the consequence of further legitimizing an objectionable group. HRC claims to be a neutral advocate for gay rights and human rights — a noble goal — even describing itself as “the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans.”

But in reality, the Human Rights Campaign is a hyper-partisan propaganda outfit that deserves to be disregarded, not rewarded with prime-time coverage. The group certainly advocates for some laudable causes, such as an end to the anti-gay abuses in Chechnya, Russia, that have seen the death and detainment of dozens. Yet the HRC is essentially an arm of the left-wing movement, outrageously smearing congressional Republicans as anti-gay for their stances on completely unrelated issues such as Obamacare, immigration, and Planned Parenthood funding. They’re so skewed that when the Trump administration unveiled its diplomatic initiative to fight the criminalization of homosexuality globally, the gay-rights group didn’t celebrate the rare moment of bipartisan agreement on human rights — they put out a Twitter thread slamming the president.

Does that sound like an organization that will fairly host an unbiased debate?

It doesn’t seem like that was ever really the intention, anyway. The entire idea of an LGBT-exclusive presidential forum is essentially a PR stunt, meant to signal the party’s supposed pro-gay bona fides without actually having to engage in meaningful debate. If Democrats were actually interested in meaningful conversation on LGBT issues, they’d reach across the aisle to conservative groups — or perhaps even right-leaning gay people — to sponsor a debate about the right way forward for a pluralistic society. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.