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Equilty in America Town Hall with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Presidential Candidate. Aired 7:30-8p ET

Aired October 10, 2019 - 19:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[19:30:00]

DANA BASH, CNN: Good evening and welcome to the CNN Democratic presidential town hall equality in America. I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world from the novo in Los Angeles. I'm Dana Bash. It has been 50 years since the riots had Stonewall, and the riots against police oppression that became the turning point in the LGBTQ civil rights movement in America, but for advocates, the fight for equality is far from over.

Tonight we're partnering with the human rights campaign for the largest ever national president candidate town hall on these issues. In the audience are members are members of the LGBTQ community and their allies from the Los Angeles areas and across the country who are eager to ask the top candidates running for president their top questions. Now later, you'll hear from eight other top contenders, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, but joining me now is Senator Cory Booker. Welcome, senator.

(APPLAUSE)

Welcome.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Dana, thank you very much.

BASH: Thank you.

BOOKER: Great to see you.

BASH: Great to see you.

BOOKER: Hello, everybody.

(APPLAUSE)

BASH: All right, senator, we have a lot of questions, we want to get started.

BOOKER: Yes, let's jump right in.

BASH: We want to start to the audience. We're excited to hear first from Rachel Gonzalez (ph) who is from Dallas, Texas, and she is the mother of three children including a 9-year-old transgender daughter. Rachel is a member of the Human Rights Campaign Parents for Transgender Equality Council. Rachel?

QUESTION: We know that the Civil Rights legislation did not end racism, and we know that the Equality Act will not end homophobia, transphobia or bias. As a leader, what will you do to change hearts and minds across the country to have true equity, safety and inclusion?

BOOKER: Thank you very much, Rachel. So King spoke to this, Martin Luther King in the Civil Rights Movement that says I can't pass a law to make someone love me, but I can stop them from lynching me. I can't pass a law to change the heartless, but I can change -- pass laws to restrain their violent actions. And I don't want to discount how important it is to have a federal government to stand up and say we affirm the rights and dignities -- and those are not just words -- of all Americans. We're going to do those in actions from the Department of Education, the Department of Justice, we will stand up.

But my whole life as a kid that was raised to understand that my rights and privileges are not enshrined in the Constitution., originally, heck, african-american were fractions of human an beings. I'm here because people of all races and all backgrounds fought to affirm the right to African-Americans and stand up for them. As a college student working at a crisis counseling center with the focus on LGBTQ youth, as a mayor at a time that my own party was passing things like the Defense of Marriage Act and saying they still had to evolve on the issue. As mayor of my city, the second flag I raised was the pride flag and I said I wouldn't conduct any marriages until everyone could be married. You can be sure...

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...that as president of the United States, I will be focused every day, not just on executing the laws of the land that should protect all, but I will be setting an example that we are a nation of love of all people, and you can't lead the people if you don't love the people, all the people.

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BASH: Senator, I want to follow up with you. You've talked about your brother's child and you have said that your brother's child is a transactivist. How has that shaped your views on this topic?

BOOKER: Well, I have to express a little frustration sometimes where people evolve on issues because suddenly they visit upon their own lives and they say when I found out that I had an LGBTQ child, suddenly I became in favor of these issues. If we wait for our empathy to expand in that way we will never get to being the nation of liberty and justice for all, you know?

(APPLAUSE)

If you're a man and you see assaults on the rights of not just women, but the rights of people that control their own body, you shouldn't say because I have a wife or a daughter -- no. You are a human being. You have a body. You should be able to understand as King said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and so my views have -- have not evolved because of family members, they've evolved because they are Rustin (ph) James Baldwin, proud, guy Americans stood for my rights.

(APPLAUSE)

It's because people of all backgrounds, I was taught as a Christian, I was taught that we must bring forth the radical love of all people and that's what has always made me be an advocate for justice and I will continue to be so regardless of the incredibly beautiful, wonderful family they have.

BASH: So you talked about evolving. I want to bring up somebody in the audience who wants to ask you. Tom Bellino (ph), an urban planner from Los Angeles who currently supports Elizabeth Warren.

BOOKER: Hi Tom, how are you?

QUESTION: I'm good, how are you?

BOOKER: I'm well, thank you.

QUESTION: Thanks for being here. In the early 90's you wrote an article for the Stanford Daily Newspaper that detailed your personal journey to accept LGBTQ plus people as equals and friends. It must have been controversial at the time and made people uncomfortable, can you talk about what that was like before that article was published.

BASH: Senator, before you can answer, if I can just help illuminate the audience. One line from this 1992 opinion piece that you wrote you said, "I was disgusted by gays, the thought of two men kissing each other was about as appealing as a frontal lobotomy. Allow me more direct escaping the euphemisms of my past, I hated gays." Now to be clear, the point of the piece was that you changed your view. And again, just please back to Tom's question, can you talk about what was it like when the article came out.

BOOKER: Yes, as I said earlier, raising a family that speaks toward justice. Growing up as a young man in a toxic environment of football and the like, as a campus activist, I wanted to try to push people to understand the absurdities of homophobia, and became a campus activist on those issues, and so I wrote this article to challenge people about their homophobia and about their hatred and to say the euphemisms we use for hatred is just wrong. And so my activism started as a teenager, trying to push the limits because it is -- God, at that point in my life I was sitting as a peer counselor on a crisis hotline and we would get calls of people considering suicide because of their bullying or because of being outed by someone else.

The calls of people dropping out of school who were going through coming out which is not a one-time thing, but something people have to do time and time again, constantly feeling like they're risking their personal safety or their job, and so I will always be someone that tries to push the lines of comfort, often talking about my own experiences. And I am so proud of that column, and I am proud that this doesn't start for me when I decided to get into politics and it started as a teenager that saw growing up in the '80s, an environment that was hostile and physically dangerous to my peers and friends who my faith taught me to love no matter what.

BASH: Thank you, senator. Our next question comes from Brandon Wolf (ph) from Orlando, Florida. Brandon is an advocate for gun safety and LGBTQ equality.

QUESTION: Thanks for being here. On June 12, 2016, I was present as a man with an assault weapon murdered 49 mostly LGBTQ people of color at Pulse nightclub. I was very lucky to make it out. Unfortunately, my friends were not. That night we were reminded that LGBTQ people, specifically those of color are often, too often, the targets of hate violence. With the rise of violence against transwomen of color, how will you ensure that law enforcement is equipped to treat marginalized victims of crime with dignity and respect?

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BOOKER: So first of all, very clearly, it is a national emergency, the majority of the terrorist attacks in this country since 9/11 had been right-wing extremist groups and the majority of them had been white supremacist and hate groups. And I will elevate, as president of the United States, an office on hate crimes and white supremacy to make sure it is a presidential level effort to protect our country as a whole, but I'm not stopping there. We need a Department of Justice that recognizes this is a problem and investigates hate crimes.

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We must -- we must take the steps necessary to keep these weapons out of the hands of people that are doing those crimes, but we can't stop there. Thirty percent of LGBTQ youth, 30 percent have reported missing school in the last month because of fears for their physical safety. We live in a country where we still see regular, everyday violence and intimidation and bullying against Americans because of who they are. And so, number one, I am going to appoint a secretary of education, first of all, that sees the dignity and the worth and the value of every one of our children.

And I will have...

(APPLAUSE)

... a Department of Education that takes the steps necessary to protect all children in America.

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BASH: Thank you, Senator. I want to get straight to Gavin Grimm, a 20-year-old transgender activist. Gavin?

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: I sued my school after it banned me from using the boy's restroom because I'm transgender. My case was going to be heard by the Supreme Court, but then the Trump administration took the position that Title IX does not protect LGBTQ students and my case went back to the lower courts. Do you believe that Title IX should protect students on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation? And what will you do as president to protect LGBTQ youth?

BOOKER: Thank you very much.

BASH: And, Senator, I'm sorry, as you're answering, I just want to point out that Title IX is the federal law that forbids discrimination on the basis of sex under education. I know you know that, but I just want to clarify.

(LAUGHTER)

BOOKER: Thank you very much for this question. So, first of all, point blank, this is a real problem in America, and I will, number one, change the Trump administration's guidance back to what the Obama administration's guidance was...

(APPLAUSE)

... that schools should allow people to use the bathrooms that conforms with their gender identity. But we cannot stop there. We must use our Department of Justice and the Department of Education's civil rights division to go after schools that are denying people equal rights and equal protections. And that's the last point I want to make.

Again, this is very personal to me, because there was a time that people used every excuse possible to deny rights to women in this country, to minorities in this country. And folks literally had to march and fight and struggle to allow there to be laws that govern equal protection.

My parents and grandparents have stories of being denied the ability to stop at restaurants traveling across country or use restrooms or bathrooms, had people look down on them and said their associations, that the Bible didn't justify their associations.

We as a society now reject that kind of bigotry and hate. As your president, I will actively -- as much as people who are activists who fought for that equality for black Americans, I'll fight for it with the same ferocity, with the same sense of urgency every single day for LGBTQ Americans. I will stand up and call this country to remember that patriotism is love of country and you cannot love your country unless you love all of your countrymen and women.

And love is not a sentiment. It is not saccharin. It is not anemic. Love demands sacrifice and service and the understanding that if your rights are denied, then my rights are compromised. That's the kind of leadership I will provide in the White House.

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BASH: And, Senator, on this topic of the Supreme Court, just this week, the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether current laws protect LGBTQ people from being fired over their gender identity or sexual orientation. If the Supreme Court does not rule to protect these workers' rights, what would you do as president?

BOOKER: Well, again, so many of these issues, what will you do -- I just want you to know that I have spent my life working on LGBTQ issues. We just talked about the security and safety of young people. When I was mayor of the city of Newark, we must know, we live in a nation where there's violence against LGBTQ youth.

So as mayor back in 2006, 2007, I saw the model of the Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York creating safe spaces for LGBTQ youth. I did that as the mayor of the city of Newark, open up those safe spaces.

I don't need to run for president to be fighting on these issues. I am one of the lead original sponsors of the Equality Act.

(APPLAUSE)

And so, again, I will not wait for the Supreme Court, because with the right-wing justices that this president has appointed, they're not just looking to roll back LGBTQ rights, but -- we see it already, a rollback of civil rights, a rollback of voting rights, a rollback we're seeing across this country, because of federal judges on a woman's right to control their own body.

And so we have got to make sure we enshrine everything from Roe v. Wade to the Voting Rights Act. We need to do legislation in Congress once and for all. And the Equality Act is essential. It is essential that nowhere in America -- and right now the majority of states in America, you can post your pictures of your wedding on your Facebook page, but the next day, you could be fired just because you are gay. That goes against every one of our core values in this nation.

And we are not free when we swear an oath -- all of us swear an oath that we'll be a nation of liberty and justice for all. Those are aspirational words right now until every LGBTQ American has equal rights and I will get the Equality Act passed and into law in our country.

(APPLAUSE)

BASH: OK, Senator, thank you for that. I want to bring in Sandra Mukaska, who is a recent graduate from UC Berkeley and she received a master's in city planning and a master's in public health. Sandra?

QUESTION: Hello, Senator. I worked as a health educator providing HIV education and screenings at an LGBT center. I told my clients about a drug called Truvada, which when taken daily can help provide almost absolute protection against becoming HIV-positive. A monthly supply of Truvada costs less than $6 to make. However, its manufacturer, Gilead, charges more than $1,600. This severely limits access to preventive care. What actions would you take as president to address this cost barrier?

BOOKER: So -- thank you.

(APPLAUSE) That is a great question. That is a really great question. And, you know, I live in a low-income black and brown community. And in fact, when it comes to HIV and AIDS, we see often the communities that are most seeing the expansion, the ones that are least able to access a lot of the drugs that can do preventative, like PrEP.

And so to me it's unacceptable that pharmaceutical companies are going to profit in this way off of the backs of people who urgently need what could be life-saving drugs. And so we're going to do a number of things to lower prescription drug costs right away if I'm president of the United States, by using Medicaid, Medicare to negotiate down prices, taking patents away from companies that unjustly raise their prices, creating a law...

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... in this country that you cannot raise the price of drugs higher in this country than you're selling in others. These are all things that we're going to do.

But PrEP is so important in this country right now, and I'm going to make sure that, like Gavin Newsom did, who pushed in California to have it be over the counter without a prescription, that's a great step in the right direction.

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And more than that, we're going to fight to make sure that health insurance companies actually cover this so more people are accessible. Medicaid and Medicare, to cover this, as well.

And I want to say one last thing, because this idea of preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS is so critical. And that's why legislation I've introduced as a United States senator we need to get back to. Number one, we need to do more sex education in this country that is science-based, which is something that's really important.

(APPLAUSE)

BASH: Thank you, Senator.

The next question is from Ayse Seker, who is a sophomore at UCLA and originally from Park Ridge, New Jersey.

BOOKER: All right. It's great to see a Jersey girl out here. Fantastic.

QUESTION: I attended an all-girls Catholic high school in Bergen County, New Jersey, where during my years there, proposals for an LGBTQ+ club and or gay-straight alliance were routinely rejected, despite the school's messaging of acceptance and love. A few towns away, at another Catholic high school, a female teacher was fired for being married to a woman. How would you address the at times juxtaposing issues of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights?

BOOKER: It's a great question. And thank you very much. Look, this is something that I've been dealing with all my life as a Christian, people who want to use religion as a justification for discrimination and often are creating environments that are so contrary to my religious beliefs.

It's said in Michael, oh, what do you want from your lord? Or what do you want from your people, which is to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly. Walk humbly. And so for me, I cannot allow as a leader that people are going to use religion as a justification for discrimination.

I can respect your religious freedoms but also protect people from discrimination. And as I said in an earlier answer, I grew up in a household where my parents talked to me about how people used to use religion to justify the discrimination against African-Americans.

And so we need to have laws in this country -- and this is why the Equality Act is one of them -- that sets parameters that do not allow people to discriminate. And I will take this not just in making sure that happens in our schools and in education, but it also has to make sure it happens in health care, which we now see discrimination being done around insurance.

It means to make sure we do this globally. Why is the United States of America not using its power on the world to begin to stand up on the global stage against the outrageous violence and discrimination against LGBTQ citizens around the world?

(APPLAUSE)

And so my faith, as well as my American values, will make me fight on every front to make sure that people are not discriminating against someone because of who they are. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

BASH: And, Senator, a follow-up on this. Do you think that religious education institutions should lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose LGBTQ rights?

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BOOKER: I see this -- the Trump administration turning against what the Obama administration did. Whether you're a school and -- or providing healthcare for folks, whether you are a -- a bakery; you cannot discriminate fundamentally no.

And so again, we must stand up as a nation to stay that religion cannot be an excuse to deny people health insurance, education, or more. This -- this cannot happen and I will make sure that I assert the laws to make sure that we become that (ph).

BASH: So would they lose their tax exempt status?

BOOKER: Again, I -- I will press this issue and I'm not -- I'm not saying because I know this is a long legal battle and I'm not dodging your question. I'm saying that fundamentally that discrimination is discrimination.

And if you are using your -- your -- your position to try to discriminate others, there must be consequences to that. And I will make sure to hold them accountable using the DOJ or whatever investigatory authority. You cannot discriminate.

BASH: No yes or not there, huh?

BOOKER: I -- I'm going to say to you bluntly that that is a process. And -- and I'm going to make sure that I hold them accountable. And if it means losing your tax status -- but I'm telling you private -- private organizations that do not have tax, there has to be consequences for discrimination.

BASH: Thank you, Senator.

BOOKER: Whether you are a bakery or a school.

BASH: Thank you. All right. Let's get back to the audience. Our next question comes from Nicholas Bloom. Nicholas works in community healthcare for a (inaudible) medical center. Also runs a business that helps anyone looking to start a family through no traditional methods and he currently supports Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

NICHOLAS BLOOM, COMMUNITY HEALTH WORKER: Good evening.

BOOKER: Good evening.

BLOOM: Same sex male couples are losing out on paid parental leave when compared to both same sex female and different sex couples. A recent study compared paid parental leave in 34 countries.

In 19 of them, same sex female couples received equal amounts of paid leave to different sex couples while same sex male couples got equal amounts of leave in only four of those countries. As president, what is your plan to make paid parental leave equitable amongst all new parents.

BOOKER: Thank you very much. First of all, I want to be clear. We are a nation that has a long way to go to catch up with other countries and just having paid leave period. And I will be a champion of making sure that we are a nation with paid family leave.

Afghanistan and the Congo have paid family leave. The United States of America should have paid family leave. And again, it should be equal in terms of what that paid family leave is. And I will fight for that.

But I want to go further because we know that same sex male couples have a lot of challenges when it comes to parenting. First of all, there are discriminatory laws in adopting in this country still and we need to make sure that same sex couples have equal access to adoption as well.

Parenting is such a -- a fundamental urgency in this country. And to see the challenges that parents are having struggling to hold down a job, struggling to find affordable child care, we need to be a country that goes amongst developed nations from one to the last that's helping in empowering parents to being up at the first.

And this is why my support for everything from paid family leave to expanding the child tax credit are really urgent and those plans are going to apply equally to everyone.

BASH: Thank you. I want to bring Geno Mehalik who works for UCLA student affairs with a focus on student health. Geno.

BOOKER: Thank you Geno.

GENO MEHALIK, UCLA STUDENT AFFAIRS EMPLOYEE: Good evening. Good evening, Senator.

BOOKER: That is one of the most handsome haircuts I have seen. Were you -- were you about to say the same thing?

MEHALIK: I was. I was going to say ...

BOOKER: Thank you very much.

MEHALIK: All right.

BOOKER: You are a beautiful man.

MEHALIK: All right. Many people have no idea that ...

BOOKER: Make our president bald again.

MEHALIK: Yes. I'm here for it.

BOOKER: All right.

MEHALIK: Many people have no idea that for decades gay men were permanently deferred from donating blood in the U.S. because of outdated draconian regulations not supported by science. The FDA has only recently reduced the ban to one year after intercourse.

Gay folks should never be discriminated against but it's particularly painful when our community wants to help after a disaster or a mass shooter targeting our community as in the case with Pulse. Will you commit to working with the FDA to remove this harmful ban?

BOOKER: Two words. Absolutely yes. And -- and one statement. You know when you're president of the United States you have to set the tone and the temperature. We should be using our platforms. The new generation of precedence.

We see a president everyday that's using his platforms in unorthodox ways to demean to degrade to put misinformation and outright lies. If I'm your president, as the first X gener (ph) in that office effort, I'm going to be using my platforms everyday to dispel ignorances, to challenge people to have a more courageous empathy.

To create a more revival of civic grace. That's why even on this campaign I've gone out and been tested for HIV, trying to get rid of the kind of stigmas that still undermine this society.

We have a whole lot of truth telling to do in this country and we've got a lot of work to do to pull -- pull out of the shadows people who often relegated their struggles, their injustices. We've just seen yet another black transgender American murdered in this country just last month.

This makes the 19th this year. The suffering of so many people in the LGBTQ community, the truth about them is shrouded in the ignorance and hate that we see in this world.

So not only am I going to change policies, change laws, get an activist Department of Justice, but I'm going to be using my platform everyday to tell the truth, to heal, to bring the truth forward so that we can be a nation that's far more progressive on these issues.

BASH: Thank you, Senator. Thank you so much and we'll see you see next week ...

BOOKER: Thank you very much.

BASH: ... at CNN's debate in Ohio.

BOOKER: Yes.

BASH: Thank you.

BOOKER: Thank you.

BASH: Thank you for joining us.

BOOKER: Thank you everybody. Thank you.

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