VP Debate Marks Second Election Pence Was Not Asked About LGBTQ Rights Despite Requests From 13 Equality Organizations

For the second time, the issue of LGBTQ rights was not brought up in a vice presidential debate featuring Vice President Mike Pence.

During Wednesday night's debate, moderator Susan Page selected a number of issues to ask the two vice presidential candidates about on the national stage. While Page pressed on Pence to discuss the current administration's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which Pence leads, she did not bring up the issue of LGBTQ rights.

Last week, 13 equality organizations—including the Human Rights Campaign, the Equality Federation, the National Black Justice Coalition and the National Center for Transgender Equality Action Fund—wrote a three-page letter to Page urging her to address the issue in the only vice presidential debate of the election.

"With over 11 million LGBTQ adults able to vote in the upcoming election, and 57 million Equality Voters who prioritize LGBTQ issues at the ballot box, it will do our nation and community a disservice to exclude these issues as a part of the conversation," the letter read.

However, the topic never came up during the 90-minute debate.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, expressed his disappointment in Page's decision to not bring up the concerns of the LGBTQ community in a press release immediately following the debate.

"Tonight, Susan Page had the opportunity to highlight the stark contrast between Mike Pence—the Vice President with the longest and most problematically anti-LGBTQ record in decades—and Kamala Harris, a true champion of our community," David said.

"Page did not ask any questions about the candidates' LGBTQ records—a disservice to voters across the country," he added. "The LGBTQ community is in crisis, with increases in violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people, an economy in freefall disproportionately impacting LGBTQ people's income and savings, and a partisan attack on access to health care for millions of people."

Mike Pence Debate
US Vice President Mike Pence Mike Pence gestures as he speaks during the vice presidential debate in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah on October 7, 2020, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Pence was not asked about his anti-LGBT record during the debate, despite the requests from equality groups. Robyn Beck/AFP

Throughout his political career, Pence has been committed to rolling back the rights of LGBTQ Americans.

He has voted to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," co-sponsored a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and issued a rule allowing doctors and insurance companies to refuse care to LGBTQ individuals.

Pence has continued to focus on the values of Christian conservatives, arguing religious freedom protections to allow for discrimination against the LGBTQ community and to roll back abortion rights.

As the governor of Indiana, he signed Indiana's Religious Freedom Reservations Act, which barred the state from infringing on the religious liberties of residents, in 2015 before the Supreme Court decision in Obergfell v. Hodges, which struck down state bans on same-sex marriage.

In Congress, Pence opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which banned workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. As head of the Republican Study Committee in 2006, he said: "societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family."

The vice president has also called being gay a choice and rolled back protections for transgendered students in schools.

Pence Kaine 2016 Debate
Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine (L) and Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence (R) arrive on stage for the US vice presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia on October 4, 2016. In the last vice presidential debate, the issue of LGBTQ rights in the country did not come up. Paul J. Richards/AFP

Wednesday's debate marked the second time LGBTQ rights was not brought up in a vice presidential debate with Pence.

He also avoided having to publicly address the topic on a national level during the vice presidential debate against Senator Tim Kaine in 2016. Many called it a missed opportunity that moderator and CBS News anchor Elaine Quijano did not question Pence about his anti-LGBTQ record four years ago.

This year, Page told Newsweek that she was unable to ask Pence those same questions due to time constraints.

"The topic of LGBTQ rights is an important one and one that deserves discussion. I didn't include it as one of the eight topics in the vice-presidential debate because of the constraints of time," she said in an email.

LGBTQ groups and equality advocates expressed their frustrations that failure to address these issues at events as widely covered as a vice presidential debate casts the community aside.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) tweeted, "Unfortunately, a fly got more air time during the #VPDebate than LGBTQ issues did."

GLADD president Sarah Ellis emphasized that the lack of conversation on Pence's record has become a pattern of continued unaccountability.

"This is the fourth missed chance in a nationally-televised forum of the general election to address any LGBTQ issues. VP Pence should have been called to account for his role in the administration's 181 attacks against the LGBTQ community," Ellis tweeted.

"LGBTQ voters may cast the deciding votes in this election and we need to be a part of the conversation. The moderators must include us. The candidates must acknowledge us," she continued.

LGBTQ people deserve to know where the candidates stand on issues of life and death to us. We will continue to demand to be seen and heard. #VPDebate

— Sarah Kate Ellis (@sarahkateellis) October 8, 2020