Reps. Lee, Schiff, and Porter make their appeal for California U.S. Senate seat at LGBTQ+ forum
Author: Trudy Ring
The three most prominent Democratic contenders in this year’s election for a U.S. Senate seat from California offered their views on LGBTQ+ issues in a forum Saturday, and there wasn’t a lot of daylight between them.
Barbara Lee, Katie Porter, and Adam Schiff, all members of California’s U.S. House delegation, participated in the event at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, sponsored by Equality California in partnership with the center and the TransLatin@ Coalition.
All strong LGBTQ+ allies, they are running for the seat once held by Dianne Feinstein, who died in September and had already announced she wouldn’t run for reelection in 2024. Political and labor activist Laphonza Butler was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to serve the remainder of Feinstein’s term, becoming the first Black lesbian in the Senate, but she has said sahe won’t seek election to the seat.
Lee, Porter, and Schiff took questions from moderators Dustin Gardiner of Politico and Simha Haddad of the Los Angeles Blade on protecting transgender youth, fighting anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in health care and in general, addressing homelessness, and what to do if Donald Trump becomes president again. Each candidate appeared separately, not in a debate fashion, and received the same questions, although time ran out before Schiff and Lee could get all of the queries addressed to Porter, who appeared first.
All three support the Equality Act, a sweeping LGBTQ+ rights bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing federal civil rights law and cover not only employment but also housing, public accommodations, federally funded programs, credit, and various other aspects of life. The act has been introduced in Congress several times but has never passed both the House and Senate in the same session.
“We didn’t deliver that protection,” Porter said. Even though polls show a majority of Americans support LGBTQ+ equality, Congress has been too cautious and moved too slowly on the issue, she said. Passing the act would be a safeguard in the event Trump is elected again, she said.
Lee noted the “need to organize and develop alliances” to get the bill passed.
All also support steps to expand access to health care and end discrimination, such as by enforcing the antidiscrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act and ensuring gender-affirming care is available to all who need it.
Lee and Schiff both said they support expanding Medicare, the federal health insurance program for senior citizens, so it’s available to Americans of all ages, becoming a universal health care program.
Schiff spoke of the excellent care received by his daughter and other members of his family, saying, “It grieves me that so many parents don’t have the luxury of access to high-quality care” for their children. He pointed out that he’s introduced the Equal Health Care for All Act, which would make access to care a civil right, without discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other factors.
Lee called for funding clinics that specifically serve LGBTQ+ needs and noted that “Republicans are trying to destroy what health care there is,” so Democrats have to play both defense and offense on the issue.
She noted she has been a longtime supporter of the community, having organized a health care fair for trans people years ago, before trans issues were getting mainstream attention. She also talked about working successfully with President George W. Bush, with whom she disagreed on almost everything, on legislation to fight HIV.
Porter focused on expanding mental health care and making sure that federal health programs, such as Medicare and veterans’ programs, don’t discriminate. She further called for better collection of data on the LGBTQ+ community so we can see where the disparities are, as the federal government does a “lousy — that’s a technical term” job of collecting this information.
To address homelessness, which disproportionately affects LGBTQ+ people, especially youth, all urged making housing more affordable. “We have a homelessness problem because the rent is too damn high,” Porter said.
“I start from the premise that housing is a basic human right,” Lee said. The federal government should make grants to people who can’t afford the initial cost of renting an apartment, including a security deposit.
Schiff said he supports tax credits to provide an incentive for development of affordable housing as well as a tax credit for renters, similar to the tax benefits mortgage holders receive.
To serve youth experiencing homelessness, Lee urged federal funding to programs for youth and families, while Porter pointed out the need for an inclusive foster care system to make sure LGBTQ+ youth have supportive homes.
All supported action against prisons where trans people are mistreated, and Lee said that there needs to be an end to the criminalization of people simply for being homeless. Schiff noted that proactive steps can be taken to keep people out of the criminal justice system, such as improving mental health and substance abuse services, and not using police as first responders when someone is having a mental health crisis.
Asked about the economic problems faced especially by the trans community, the candidates said passing antidiscrimination law is one way to address this, along with reducing economic inequality across the board. Porter spoke of how the disparity between CEO pay and the wages earned by the average worker has increased over the past few decades, and Lee said the minimum wage needs to be increased to a living wage.
All condemned the forced outing policies adopted by some school boards in California, requiring parental notification if a student comes out as trans or nonbinary, as well as efforts to bar trans youth from competing in school sports under their gender identity.
“Children cannot learn when they are not safe, and forced outing policies endanger kids,” Porter said. Policies restricting sports participation also hurt kids, she said, and we need to appeal to people’s humanity on this issue. “I think it’s important that we do not budge one inch” on these matters, she said. She is willing to go to every school board and every city council to make this point, she added.
Schiff said he recently joined California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond in addressing forced outing in the Chino, Calif., schools. He has been using his “bully pulpit” on this issue as a representative and will continue to do so as a senator, he said.
Lee promised to continue her own advocacy on this issue as well, and she proposed withholding federal funding from school districts with forced outing policies.
Each shared some information about what distinguishes them as individuals. All noted their records of advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community and other marginalized groups. Porter said she’s the only candidate in the race who’s never taken money from a corporate political action committee.
Lee talked about growing up in El Paso, Texas, where one of her mother’s best friends was a lesbian. Her mom advised Lee and her siblings that if they ever heard anyone putting the friend down, they should tell the person to shut up.
Schiff spoke of his longtime participation in the AIDS/LifeCycle ride down the California coast, raising money and awareness for HIV and AIDS services. On one ride, he had a roommate in his tent named Steve, and Schiff’s wife’s name is Eve, so he said, “Leave it to the ALC to turn Adam and Eve into Adam and Steve,” parodying a saying used by homophobes. He also said he’s proud to be vice chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, which works for LGBTQ+ rights.
And on the question of another Trump term, the idea of which scares LGBTQ+ people and many others, the candidates called for passing antidiscrimination legislation before this happens, and to get out the vote to keep this from happening — and prevent voter suppression.
“The most important thing we can do to defend our democracy is make sure Donald Trump never goes near the Oval Office again,” Schiff said.
If the worst does happen, he said, “This too shall pass. We are going to get through this. We’re a resilient country.” Eventually, he said, we’ll look back and ask, “How in the hell did this guy ever become president of the United States?”
The California Democratic primary will be March 5 and the general election November 5. Under the state’s system, the top two vote recipients in the primary advance to the general election, regardless of party. There are several other candidates running for the Senate set, both Democrats and Republicans; the Republican with the most name recognition is former Los Angeles Dodger Steve Garvey. Given the state’s makeup, the seat will almost assuredly stay in Democratic hands.
Pictured, from left: Adam Schiff, Barbara Lee, and Katie Porter
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Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Trudy Ring