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CNN Live Event/Special

Equality in America Town Hall with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Presidential Candidate. Aired 10:30-11p ET

Aired October 10, 2019 - 22:30   ET



LEMON: All right. Welcome back, everyone, to this historic Democratic presidential town hall dedicated to Equality in America. I'm Don Lemon. We're so happy that you're here and that you're watching from home.

On the eve of the National Coming Out Day, we are partnering with the Human Rights Campaign and hosting these presidential town halls so members of the LGBTQ community and their allies can get answers to their most pressing questions. Soon we're going to hear from the former Housing Secretary Julian Castro and also businessman Tom Steyer.

But up next, the next candidate is Senator Amy Klobuchar. Please welcome her to the stage.


LEMON: Hi, Senator. How are you doing?

KLOBUCHAR: Great to be back. I'm great, thank you.

LEMON: It's good to be here, right?

KLOBUCHAR: What a great group, thank you.

LEMON: So let's get right to -- first, I want to bring in Jacob Goldfarb. He's a sophomore at UCLA.

KLOBUCHAR: OK, very good.

LEMON: Right here to your left.


LEMON: He's originally from San Diego.

QUESTION: Hi. Senator, the majority of your campaign, you've said that you should be the nominee because you could negotiate with other politicians from across the aisle. What would be your strategy when it comes for pushing for LGBT legislation on LGBT rights and getting support from Congress from members who are not so very pro-LGBT?

KLOBUCHAR: You mean there are some of them? It is great to be here. And I want to thank you so much for that question. And also, welcome, everyone.

I did want to mention, first, that I have a very special guest out there. And we've talked a lot about the challenges of the community, but for me this is a moment of joy, in that I have with me one of the first -- the first trans member of the Minneapolis City Council, Andrea Jenkins, right out there in front. So we're very excited that she came out as my guest.


There she is. Andrea, stand up. Thank you.

And then my other joy in our state is that we actually also have our first openly gay member of Congress, and that is Angie Craig. And we worked really hard to get Angie elected last time. And you know who was in her district today? Mike Pence. He was in there campaigning against her. And Donald Trump is in my state right now. And what we have to say to him as he's out rallying, going after our Somali community, is love trumps hate in the city of Minneapolis.

So your question, how do we get this passed and actually get things done? That has been my signature. I've passed over 100 bills where I'm the lead Democrat, and it is time to pass the Equality Act.


You are seeing the march that you have been on, the community's been on, has gotten us to this point, right? Everything from -- I remember way back, repealing "don't ask/don't tell," to passing protection after protection, state by state, to marriage equality, to this. Because our problem right now is that you can literally get married in one state and then the next morning you get up and you can get fired from your job for being gay. That's where we are right now in America, and that's why the Equality Act is so important.

So the way I would do this is we know we had a handful of votes for Republicans in the House. It's passed the House. So let's start with that. And so it is sitting in the graveyard of legislation that is Mitch McConnell's desk.

So what I would do to get it passed is to bring people together across the country to make the economic case for it. Minnesota has our own Equality Act, which protects -- for years on the books, and we have an incredibly strong economy. I would make that case for it. And then I would bring people in.

But the best way we're going to get this done, honestly, is changing the Senate and winning the presidency.


And if you think your votes never matter, let me give you this. Five votes, five votes was the number of Republicans we brought over to pass the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill. It was five votes. Four votes, four votes. That was the margin on Armed Services Committee when we repealed "don't ask/don't tell." Three votes, that was the margin on the U.S. Supreme Court when we reversed the decision that it was criminal to have a same-sex relationship.

Two votes, that was the number of votes it took to get the employment discrimination bill up for a vote in the U.S. Senate. And one vote, that was the margin that gave us marriage equality by the U.S. Supreme Court. So you think about that...


Think about it, one, two, three, four, five, five votes. And if we can flip five Senate seats, we'll pass the Equality Act the next day.


LEMON: Senator, you've been out on the campaign trail. You've been doing town halls all around the country. You know that some of the top issues among Democrats are health care, climate change, gun policy, and the economy. This is similar to what I asked the congressman. Where does the LGBTQ community fall on your list of priorities as a candidate?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think my record speaks for myself -- itself. When I got to -- in my first job as the DA in Minnesota's biggest county, I made hate crimes a major, major priority. And I actually got to be there and was invited to the White House because of that, to introduce President Clinton when he unveiled the Matthew Shepherd bill.

And from there, when I got to the Senate, we actually passed that bill and got all of those other things passed that I mentioned and introduced. So for me, it's a major priority.

But what I want to talk more about is how you actually get it done. So there are things you can do without Congress. Yes. So in my first 100 days, I put forward a bunch of legal things you can do -- yes, legal, unlike President Trump -- legal things that you can do in the first 100 days.


You can start collecting the data that we want to collect so we understand the issues for the LGBTQ community. Right now, that data is not being collected. You can actually get that done without Congress.

You can, of course, stop this highly discriminatory and anti-patriotic policy of the Trump administration which bans trans people from serving in the military. You can do that yourself. You can do so many other things when it comes to changing the Department of Education policies and other discrimination policies.

And then I would pass the Equality Act in the first year. Those are high priorities for me. And you've got to do some by changing the dialogue in those first 100 days and some are the long term to get them done through Congress.

LEMON: So, Senator, I want to introduce someone now, and I want everyone to listen to, Seth Owens, Seth Owens' story here. When Seth was in high school, his Southern Baptist parents discovered his sexual orientation and forced him into conversion therapy. In his senior year, he was forced to move out and was homeless, sleeping on friends' couches. He was named valedictorian and accepted to Georgetown University but couldn't afford the tuition. His friends and loved ones created a GoFundMe campaign to help cover the costs. Now Seth has started his own foundation to help other LGBTQ kids.

Seth, welcome. And what is your question?

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Senator, for being here. And thank you to all of my chosen family out here who's made this possible.

KLOBUCHAR: Thanks, Seth.

QUESTION: As someone who's been forced through conversion therapy, particularly one that was masked as religious-based counseling, I know how twisted and unscientific these transphobic and homophobic practices are, especially for children who are not old enough to consent to being forced through the practice. Will you support federal and state measures to forever ban so-called conversion therapy practices?



I think we know this makes no sense at all. We know this isn't the right thing to do. And what I'm amazed about you, Seth, is you somehow got through this and are a hero to so many other young LGBTQ community members.


So I want to thank you so much for that. So, thank you.

And I think the answer is, when you look -- I mean, you know we've all seen some of the things that are going on, bad practices, bad policies. But you also have acceptance in a community that's going to be so important. So for me, a lot of that is holding up people like Andrea Jenkins. It is role models. It is education. And it is making sure that we fight at every level, yes, at the federal level, but also the state and local levels.

One of my favorite stories of youth was a high school in Minnesota that actually had eight suicides in just a few years, and two of them were LGBTQ members. And this high school went through a really hard time. Well, then they had the vote for the Heart Dance Royalty. And the students voted for a lesbian couple. And the school wasn't going to let them march down.

And so a federal judge -- who I actually had recommended to President Obama -- was the one that brought in the school and brought in those two young girls and had a mediation. And out of it came the grace and dignity for the school, and those two walked into that -- with that line of royalty hand in hand. So it is lifting people up using our laws to do that, but also using the education system to do that. So thank you, Seth.


LEMON: Thank you. I want to bring in now Ryan Basham, an executive and career coach. Hi, Ryan.

QUESTION: Hi. Hi, Senator.


QUESTION: Hey, girl. That's a ceremonial greet of our people.

KLOBUCHAR: I liked it, good. Yeah, well, I was...


LEMON: You forgot the "hey."

KLOBUCHAR: And I was just also thinking, with all these presidential candidates, are you going to do some career coaching?

QUESTION: Well, some may need it.


And actually, I will offer this. I would like to encourage you and your fellow candidates to hire black trans women and men in senior leadership in your campaigns and if you're elected in government. So there's your -- there's your career push.


KLOBUCHAR: OK, very good.

QUESTION: So you co-sponsored the SESTA-FOSTA Act, which made it harder for sex workers to protect themselves by vetting clients online and harder for law enforcement to track potential criminals who may harm, kidnap, or even kill sex workers.

I'm vice president of the Stonewall Democratic Club, which is the nation's oldest LGBTQ feminist and progressive political group, and a lot of our constituents are current and former sex workers. Many of them are people of color. Many of them are trans. Many of them are undocumented immigrants. So my question for you is, will you come out in favor of legalizing sex work? And what will you do to counteract the negative impact this law has had?

KLOBUCHAR: OK, thank you.


First of all, you may or may not know, I've been a leader on human trafficking. I was actually the lead on the bill that included my provision for safe harbor. What that meant, of course, was that if you have sex trafficking, either domestic or internationally, that you have to have a safe harbor for young people who are victims, so that they're not prosecuted themselves.

And so it is a form of what you're talking about, that they are not prosecuted, that, instead, you go after the people that are perpetrating these rings, that are getting these kids hooked on drugs, that are drawing them in, that instead you should be giving them help, that you should be giving them a job and you should be helping them with school and you should be giving them a home and a place to live so they don't go back into the cycle again.

So I am not in favor of decriminalizing all of sex work. I'm concerned about the effect that's going to have on young women and violence against women. But I'd love to talk with you afterwards if you have a few minutes so we can talk it through.

QUESTION: I can bring a few cards.

KLOBUCHAR: OK, good. And let's see how we can find some common ground going forward. I'll be around. Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you, Ryan. Thank you, Senator.

So next up is Oscar Buckland, a community college student here in Los Angeles. Oscar currently supports Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Hi, Oscar.

QUESTION: Hi, good evening.


QUESTION: I currently identify as non-binary. In California, I am able to change my gender to X. However, on the federal level, there is no such option. Will you recognize third gender markers on a federal level?

KLOBUCHAR: Yes. Thank you. I will.


And I think there's also -- you know, I think that there is a lot of work we need to do, all over the country, with driver's licenses, as you know. Not every state has some of the provisions that California have in place and just work on a state-by-state basis to make those changes. So thanks for asking the question.

QUESTION: Thank you.

LEMON: Let me ask you about this, because we've been hearing a lot of terms. Some of our viewers might not be -- they may be hearing it for the first time tonight, may not understand what they are, cisgender, non-binary. What responsibility does a president have in increasing awareness and education about these identities?

KLOBUCHAR: I think a big one, because you want to be able to bring people in. We have a president right now in the White House who spends his time dividing people in any way he can. Every single morning, he writes a tweet going after someone, going after people of color, going after immigrants, going after trans people. It just never stops.

And so I think it's going to be just a complete change to have a new president in place -- that's putting it mildly -- and just changing that culture and changing the tone of our politics. And part of that will be educating people about people's identities and what's happened and where they are, because he sure isn't doing that.

LEMON: So for the LGBTQ community, those changes may not seem like they're happening fast, but there are many people out there who feel like these changes are happening fast. You have companies, you have places now, people are asking, what is your pronoun, right, and people may not understand, they may take time for them to catch up.


LEMON: So how do you square that circle? Because you've got the LGBTQ community saying, hey, listen this is what -- you know, how we want to be respected, and then you have other people saying, well, we're just -- we're not used to that. Give us a chance. What do you say?

KLOBUCHAR: I think you just highlight people. And I think companies actually can be a help on this. Actually, I remember when we had our hateful amendment that was on our ballot that would have banned same- sex marriage, when that happened, some of our companies actually came out, General Mills and others, came out and said they were against that amendment. I remember when they had protesters at the door, they served them coffee and cereal out in their front parking lot.

So I think you could -- it has to be education institutions, companies, and civic groups, and elected officials just have to stand up and explain why this is happening. And you don't have to do it in a confrontational way all the time. Some of it is just explaining so people start understanding.

And I think we all know the best way that we've been able to move things here is because people always know someone they love or they like. It's either someone in their own family or it is their neighbor or it's someone at work. And that is what's changed minds.

I remember when I was the DA and I got invited -- I mentioned, because of that hate crimes work -- to the White House, and I met the investigators on the Matthew Shepard case. And I know that Judy is out there somewhere, Matthew's mom. And I met them and the family, and I remember them saying -- one of the cops saying he had been very homophobic. He didn't understand. And then he started investigating that case. Whereas you remember Matthew was left on that fence post and the person that spotted him thought he was a scarecrow, and that cop said that it just changed his whole life as he understood that.

So I think that those kinds of experiences, hopefully more positive ones where people love people and know people, changes their minds and changes their hearts.

LEMON: OK. Thank you, Senator. I want to bring in Johnny Schaefer. Johnny Schaefer is a singer/songwriter here in Los Angeles. Hi, Johnny.



QUESTION: Thank you for coming here and engaging with us.


QUESTION: Evangelicals calling themselves Christians are claiming being forced to do business with gay people infringes upon their religious freedom. But my husband, Pacqua (ph), and I were married in a beautiful Lutheran Church ceremony by a congregation that embraces our love for each other. Isn't our religious freedom being violated by those who wish to discriminate against us?

KLOBUCHAR: First of all, our Constitution, as you know, has been founded on a separation of church and state. And we can have different faiths in this country, but the law rules. And the law rules when it comes to discrimination and all kinds of other things. And I can just tell you that I will appoint Supreme Court justices that understand that, that's number one.


Number two, my own faith, just because you talked about yours, actually my church in Minnesota was the first open and affirming church in our state. It's called First Church. So that's good, it's a UCC church. And the third in the country. And so that is the faith that I raised my daughter in and that I grew up in, in the last few years. And so I just think that that is -- that's got to be a big part of it, too, is to recognize that there are other faiths and one faith doesn't trump another faith.

LEMON: So on that subject, should the federal government give funding to any religious nonprofit organizations that opposes same-sex marriage, for example, an adoption agency that won't work with LGBTQ parents?

KLOBUCHAR: Yeah, I think that you have got to have agencies that follow the law. And that's one of the reasons that I want to pass the Equality Act. I think that's really important.

And I also think that you've got to recognize adoption for gay families. I've been involved -- I actually head up the Adoption Caucus -- little known fact -- in the U.S. Senate and did a lot of work on this topic when I was county attorney to speed up adoptions. And there are so many loving gay, LGBTQ couples that want to adopt kids, and we should make it easier and not harder.

LEMON: All right. I want to introduce -- thank you, Senator. I want to introduce now JavonTae Wilson. JavonTae is an HIV counselor and tester for a nonprofit group called In the Meantime Men. In the Meantime Men helps black gay men here in Los Angeles. JavonTae?

QUESTION: Good evening. KLOBUCHAR: Good evening.

QUESTION: The issues impacting young black men are layered and complex. Young black men in the inner city struggle to address the high rates of homelessness, homicide, recidivism, substance abuse, and trauma, compounded with young black gay men being the most disproportionately impacted population affected by HIV and AIDS. At what point would you address this issue if you're elected as president? And what are some remedies that you could prescribe for us for these issues?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, thank you, first of all, for your work. And I think a lot of people forget how many people still have HIV and how much it impacts the African American community. I think half the people in the U.S. with HIV are African American, which is way out of proportion. And then you add that to some of the global issues, like in Sub-Saharan Africa, and what we're seeing there.

And so my solutions are these. First of all, to make sure that HIV community can get the drugs that they need. And that means the PrEP drug and that means a whole bunch of other things to take on pharmaceutical companies to make drugs more affordable, including PrEP.

The second thing is to make sure we keep in place the protections of the Affordable Care Act so we don't kick people off their insurance for pre-existing conditions, something this president is trying to do right now in this state of Texas. And that is an outrageous thing.


The third thing that I would do is look to general social issues, like homelessness and things that we need to do a much better job of, getting housing for people, and all of that thing has combined to make it more difficult for African Americans and one of the reasons you see a higher rate of disease.

And then, finally, it's the stigma issue. I heard the case of a guy in New York who had HIV for 16 years and he never told anyone about it. And he never got the right treatment. And then after he told people, his whole life changed and he was able to access the right treatment and get the help that he needed and start a small business. Those are the kind of stories that we want to hear. So thank you for your work.

LEMON: Senator, let's talk more about strategies for the black community here. And we're talking about PrEP, Truvada, PrEP or Truvada. What would you do to ensure that HIV prevention drugs like those or that drug are more readily available in communities like JavonTae just described here?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, we have an outrageous situation going on right now with pharmaceuticals, and that is one of them, but there's many others. So I would do is make it easier for people to access pharmaceuticals to bring the costs down. The first thing that I would do is to -- if there's no competition for

a drug, to make it easier for the generics to get online. Right now, there's crazy practices like big pharma pays off generics to keep their products off the market. That is happening right now. And I actually lead the bill with a Republican to stop that practice.

Secondly, just bringing in less expensive drugs from other countries to start that competition going. In my state of Minnesota, we can see Canada from our porch. And so we see those less expensive drug prices. And this idea -- and I've worked on this with Senator Sanders, as well as Senator McCain, who I miss very much, to try to bring in less expensive drugs. Another thing that...

LEMON: Senator...


LEMON: OK, you've got a great plan. I want to...

KLOBUCHAR: I have a really great plan for this with deadlines.

LEMON: So we see that you've got a great plan. But I want to -- before we run out of time, this is a very important question that we have coming up, so let me -- if you don't mind.


LEMON: Because I want to bring in Derek Novacek. He's a clinical and research psychologist at UCLA. He works in the clinic that treats many LGBTQ adolescents experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts and behavior. Now you see why I want to bring him in.

KLOBUCHAR: All right. Yeah, I get it.

LEMON: Go ahead, Derek.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.

QUESTION: Hello, Senator. To my knowledge, you were the first candidate to release a plan on how to address the mental health crisis in America. And as a psychologist, I want to thank you for that.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.


QUESTION: How would your plan address the mental health disparities experienced by the LGBTQ community, for example, the higher rates of suicide among LGBTQ youth and elevated rates of developing serious mental illness, like schizophrenia?

KLOBUCHAR: Sure. This is such a sad, sad thing. Second cause of death of teenagers right now is suicide, with the numbers for LGBTQ being even higher. One out of five Americans experience some kind of mental illness sometime in their life. Yet what we did is we took all of the system where we had those

institutions, which weren't working real well, and then we made them community-based. It was a good idea, but then none of the money followed. And there hasn't really been a plan of how to handle it. So that's why I put this out there in a big way.

For me, this is following in the footsteps of one of my mentors, Paul Wellstone, whose brother had schizophrenia. And he always said that that house was dark for his brother, Stephen, because they didn't want to talk about it.

Getting rid of the stigma by treating mental illness like any other disease. Making sure these insurance companies are following mental health parity and following that very important provision and offering the kind of insurance that we should have and the kind of coverage.

More mental health beds. Here's a great example. State of Iowa right now, guess how much public mental health beds they have in the entire state? Sixty four. That is it.

And then also, of course, schools, prevention lines, hot lines, all of those kinds of things. More counselors in the schools to work with LGBTQ youth.

But in the end, we're not going to get this done if we don't have a new president. And what I do to pay for this is actually take some of that opioid money that's going to come in with the master settlement and make sure we're paying for what we're going to do here so it's not just empty promises.

Because a lot of people talk about things, and I have worked really hard, as you can see today by my presentation, to have actual policies and show how I'm going to pay for things. So that is -- that's what I want to get done. And -- yeah.


LEMON: Go ahead. You want to finish your thought?

KLOBUCHAR: Yeah. Well, I just mostly -- I think we're coming to an end here, but I want to thank all of you for what you're doing here. And remember that we are on a march like no other that started the day after that inauguration.

LEMON: All right.

KLOBUCHAR: Millions of people. And that march has taken us through a lot, and it's going to take us right up to Election Day in 2020. I want to lead this ticket because I know I can take this guy down in the Midwest and we can win. Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you, Senator Amy Klobuchar for being with us here tonight.


KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, everybody.

LEMON: In just a few minutes -- thank you -- in just a few minutes we're going to have former Housing Secretary Julian Castro taking the stage followed by businessman Tom Steyer.