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Equality in America Town Hall with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D- MA), Presidential Candidate. Aired 9-9:30p ET

Aired October 10, 2019 - 21:00   ET



CUOMO: Good evening. Welcome to our viewers. Welcome to an historic Democratic presidential town hall dedicated to equality in America. I'm Chris Cuomo.

Fifty years ago, riots erupted at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. That uprising is the cornerstone of this fight for equality in America. But the community isn't done fighting. Tonight, in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign, members from the LGBTQ community and their allies from across the country are able to ask the presidential candidates questions.

You're soon going to hear from Senator Kamala Harris, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke, Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, and Businessman Tom Steyer. But joining me right now is Senator Elizabeth Warren. Let's welcome the senator.




Good to see you. Oh, we're going to have some fun tonight.

CUOMO: All right. So let's get right to it, and we'll get to the first question. All right? Bill Moore, business owner from Dallas, Texas, his late husband, Don Zarda, claim that he was fired from his job after he came out to a customer is now the basis for one of the three cases argued in front of the Supreme Court this week on LGBTQ employment discrimination.


Bill, we're sorry for your loss, but thank you for being with us tonight. What's your question?

QUESTION: First of all, thank you, Senator Warren, for your hard work and dedication for all of us Americans.

And, Chris, thank you for being part of the media that has maintained integrity and honesty.

(APPLAUSE) So I was a plaintiff for one of the LGBT discrimination cases that was heard by the Supreme Court on Tuesday. On behalf of myself, Gerald Bostock, Aimee Stephens, and Melissa Zarda, the other plaintiffs, my question is this. What will you do to ensure that the Senate passes the Equality Act, that has recently passed the House, that will ensure protection for all areas of LGBT+ discrimination?

WARREN: Oh, it's a wonderful question, and I appreciate your asking. I am sorry for your loss, and I'm grateful to you for not just letting it pass but for telling your story and taking it all the way through the court system. It's important.


We make change when we speak up. And for everyone else, it's always so important to remember, sometimes it's really hard to speak up. You actually have to get out there and subject yourself to a lot of different things that can be really tough going on. So I want to just say a very special thank you to you for being all the way in this. I appreciate it.


So for me, look, we've got the Supreme Court, we know the case is resting in the Supreme Court, but we all have to remember about this case. If Supreme Court rules, as it should, that LGBTQ people are protected under current law, we're done. We've got it. We are fully protected. If not, then we need to pass the Equality Act, we need to get it through Congress.

But the way I see this is, you asked the right question, how are you going to get it through Congress? We can get it through the House because we got a majority in the House and all it takes in the House is a simple majority to get it done. What it's going to take in the Senate, I'm just going to be blunt, we got to have some more Democrats in the Senate.


And I say that for two reasons, partly because the Democratic Party has made it clear this is an issue, this is a priority for us. We believe that equal means equal everywhere.


I also say it because I want our Republican friends to hear that in the United States Senate. I want them to know that people vote based on LGBTQ issues.


So I'm willing to continue to push Mitch McConnell right now, but my number one goal is to make sure he is not the majority leader come January 2021.

(APPLAUSE) And then I want to add just one more thing, because I think it's really important. If you want to get something done in the United States Senate that is important and that you've got a vocal minority that's opposed to it, it's time to roll back the filibuster. They can't have a veto.


So I'm in this fight.

CUOMO: Are you ready for another question?

WARREN: Thanks, Chris. You bet.

CUOMO: All right. Morgan Cox, real estate investment firm in Dallas, Texas. He is the chair of the Human Rights Campaign board of directors. Morgan, thank you.

QUESTION: Chris, thank you so much.

WARREN: All right. Hi, Morgan.

QUESTION: Hi, Senator. Thank you for being here. Let's say you're on the campaign trail...

WARREN: I have been.

QUESTION: And you're approached -- you have been in, yes.

WARREN: Yeah. Uh-huh.


QUESTION: And a supporter approaches you and says, Senator, I'm old- fashioned and my faith teaches me that marriage is between one man and one woman. What is your response?

WARREN: Well, I'm going to assume it's a guy who said that and I'm going to say, "Then just marry one woman. I'm cool with that."



"Assuming you can find one."


CUOMO: Let me ask you a follow on that.

WARREN: A follow-up? Joy kill. All right.


What's your follow-up, Chris?

CUOMO: That's the job. That's the job.


CUOMO: You grew up conservative in a conservative household. You were Republican by party for many years. Was there ever a time that you felt differently about this issue, in particular, about same-sex marriage?

WARREN: No, I don't think so. I actually don't remember it. I mean, it may have been the case. I don't -- you know, I don't have notes from when I was a little kid. But I don't.

And that's part of it. I mean, to me, it's about what I learned in the church I grew up in. First song I ever remember singing is, "They are yellow, black, and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves all the children of the world." And to me...

CUOMO: Can you sing it again?

WARREN: You bet.


You want to harmonize with me on this? But to me, that is the heart of it. That was the basis of the faith that I grew up in. And it truly is about the preciousness of each and every life. It is about the worth of every human being.

And that I saw this as a matter of faith and saw there were a lot of different people who do a lot of different things, who look different from each other, who sound different from each other, who form different kind of families. And I know that back in Oklahoma in those days, there weren't many people who were out. But the way I grew up, it was just gradual.

It was the two ladies who lived together. And it was just a part of what we understood in the area that I grew up. And the hatefulness, frankly, always really shocked me, especially for people of faith, because I think the whole foundation is the worth of every single human being. And I get people may make decisions for themselves that are different than the decisions other people make, but, by golly, those are decisions about you. They are not decisions that tell other people what they can and cannot do.

CUOMO: Let's get a question that goes to the hard reality for people in this community. Matthew Rose joins us. He's director of policy and advocacy for Health Gap. It's an HIV advocacy organization. What's your question, Matthew?

WARREN: Hi, Matthew.

QUESTION: Hi. Hi, Senator. The AIDS pandemic disproportionally affects gay men and trans women around the world.

WARREN: Yes. QUESTION: Longstanding pandemics of TB and malaria and the vast, devastating impacts of climate change have exacerbated these disparities. We could defeat these threats but we keep getting off- track because of broken promises. In your plan that you dropped today, you mentioned robust funding for global AIDS, but this is not happening now. Would you commit to calling for bolder funding increases and actions that we need to take to ends the AIDS pandemic and end future pandemics?



Yes. And I really do mean it. Yes. This is what we should be doing around the world. Can I put a little muscle behind that and talk about, for example, AIDS prevention drugs that right now are under patent that are expensive and that are not available to much of the rest of the world. Here's what I promise. In my first year as president -- I love saying that...


I will do -- I will do what a president can do all by herself.


And one of the pieces I'm going to get out there and keep fighting for is I want to see us bring down the cost of drugs that are generic. This drug will be off-patent by then. And I commit that in my administration we will let out a government contract to produce that drug and make that drug available at cost both here in the United States and all around the world. That's what we can do. Thank you.

CUOMO: Follow-up question on the plan.


CUOMO: One aspect of it is that you want to decriminalize HIV transmission.


CUOMO: States have laws that make that a crime. How do you deal with it on the state level? Do you try to get legislation? Is that something you negotiate? How would you deal with the decriminalization?

WARREN: There's something called federal preemption. So when you have a federal law that conflicts with a state law, then the federal law takes precedence. So in the same way that we have passed federal laws to protect people from being discriminated against and you don't have to rely on state law, we can do the same thing here on decriminalization, and that's what I commit to fight for.

CUOMO: All right. Another guest, another question. Let's bring in Jacob Lemay. He's here with his sister, Ella, and Lucia, and his mom, Mimi, who's an advocate for transgender youth and active with the Human Rights Campaign. Jacob is an elementary school student from Massachusetts, likes to play hockey. Jacob?

WARREN: All right, Jacob.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Jacob, and I'm a 9-year-old transgender American. My question is...


WARREN: All right, Jacob!


WARREN: Hold on.

QUESTION: What will you do in your first week as president to make sure that kids like me feel safer in schools? And what do you think schools need to do better to make sure that I don't have to worry about anything but my homework?


WARREN: Oh, I like that question, Jacob.


We're going to do this. So let me start by saying, I want to have a secretary of education who both believes in public education and believes in the value of every one of our kids and is willing to enforce our civil rights laws.


It turns out that when the Department of Education was set up many years ago, the secretary of education was given a whole lot of power over the public schools and over the rules and how they're enforced. And we've had some secretaries of education who have been better and we've had one that's been a whole lot worse. Her name is Betsy DeVos.


So when I'm president, she'll be gone.


And here's my plan, Jacob. I'm going to find just the right secretary of education. But here's what I plan to do. I want to make sure that the person I think is the right secretary of education meets you and hears your story. And then I want you to tell me if you think that's the right person, and then we'll make the deal. Does that sound good?


What did you -- good. OK.

CUOMO: Jacob, thank you. Mimi, thank you very much for being with us tonight.

WARREN: Thank you, Mimi. Thank you.

CUOMO: Appreciate it. All right, so we go from the kids in the schools to what's being taught in the schools. That takes us to a question from Annabelle Carter, an artist and comic book writer from Grenada Hills, California. Annabelle?

WARREN: Hi, Annabelle.

QUESTION: Hello, Senator Warren.

WARREN: Hello.

QUESTION: You were once a teacher.


QUESTION: How do you feel about schools teaching children about gender orientation and gender identity?

WARREN: I think that's part of...


WARREN: Oh, I'm sorry.


WARREN: I was too quick.

QUESTION: It's OK. In California, we're already starting those kinds of teachings and parents have been very upset and outraged. As a parent, I actually am in full support of these teachings. How would you feel about it for the rest of the country?

WARREN: So I believe this is about teaching children about our world. And of course we should teach them about our world. We should teach them about people. We should teach them about differences. So I strongly support this.

And I support doing this in age-appropriate ways from the time they're very young. I think this is part of how children learn that we live in a world that has a lot of different folks who look different, who sound different, who do different things, who form different kinds of families. And as Americans, we look at that and say, it's not our weakness, that's our strength.


Yeah. Thank you. That's good.

CUOMO: So if you don't get the lessons right, it drives a lot of stigma that are a disease in our society. And that takes us to our next question from June Crenshaw, the executive director of a non- profit in Washington, D.C., that helps homeless or at-risk LGBTQ youth between the ages of 18 to 24. She's also a member of the board of the Human Rights Campaign. June?

WARREN: Hi, June.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. You've proposed outlawing conversion therapy.


QUESTION: ... repealing the trans military ban...


QUESTION: ... and strengthening federal nondiscrimination laws.


QUESTION: All of these are really important priorities.


QUESTION: But a lot of them are geared toward white LGBTQ folks...


QUESTION: ... whereas other issues surrounding nonwhite, black and brown LGBT people, like youth homelessness and hate crimes, heavily impact the black and brown community. So how will you pay attention to all of the important priorities you've outlined in addition to homelessness and hate crimes?

WARREN: So, thank you for asking the question.


And I hope you'll go to because I actually have plans on this.


It's more than just the three you identified -- and, in fact, specifically about youth homelessness, can we just talk about that one for a minute? We know that LGBTQ youth are far more likely to end up homeless. And we know that part of that is rejection by their families.

And part of how we deal with that starts where Jacob wants us to start, and that's back in the public schools, and making sure that our children from a very early age are learning about who we are as a people and as a country. But it works all the way through.

And so one of the things I proposed is to expand our funding that is specifically targeted to LGBTQ youth who are homeless. We have a wonderful program in the town I live in called Y2Y, and it's youth who are there to counsel other youth who no longer live at home. And we've built a facility. It's been built, a shelter, with a lot of contributed funds and with some public support, but it's a statement in our community that we recognize a real problem and that we are determined to create some space.

So you don't create space just with good wishes. It takes money. So a big part of my plan is making sure we get the resources to do this. But it is important to make sure we're doing this.

One last one that I want to mention is every year in the Pride Parade in Boston, I march with a group called BAGLY, which -- oh, you know BAGLY. Good for you. And it was Bay Area Gay and Lesbian Youth. It's a longstanding organization that provides a home. And I don't mean just a home for those who are homeless. I mean a home for young people who are trying to figure out where they are and who they are and a place to be able to come on a Saturday, a place to be able to come in the evening. It's run by a wonderful man, Neal Minahan.

But marching every year in the Pride Parade to say specifically that LGBTQ youth have their own space in the LGBTQ community and their own space in the American community I think is really important in this. So...

CUOMO: Senator, quick follow. Speak to your evolution on this. In the 2012 campaign for Senate, you criticized a judge's ruling that granted transition-related surgery to a transgender inmate. You said, "I don't think it's a good use of taxpayer dollars."

WARREN: Right.

CUOMO: Do you regret that?

WARREN: Yep. No, it was a bad answer. And I think it was a bad answer. And I believe that everyone is entitled to medical care and medical care that they need, and that includes people who are transgender, who -- it is the time for them to have gender-affirming surgery. I just think that's important and the appropriate medical care.

CUOMO: So if you help people get to where they want to be, you also have to protect them as what they are. Do you think that a crime against somebody who is transgender should be charged as a hate crime in statute?

WARREN: You know, I think we could if we think that's going to be the most effective way to make change. So I'm certainly -- I'm open to this. But I'll tell you what I really want. I want a Justice Department that takes this seriously. I want to create a Justice Department that says these crimes matter.

And when they're not federal crimes, when they are state crimes, in the same way that our Justice Department is empowered to step in if a state is failing to enforce laws and as a result it's leaving women unprotected, it's leaving people of color unprotected, the same should happen for LGBTQ people. We need a Justice Department that is on the side of the people, all of the people. CUOMO: All right, Dr. Michael Enenbach is with us right now, a

professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at UCLA. Michael, thanks for being with us.

WARREN: Good to see you, Michael.

QUESTION: Thank you, Senator. The current administration has continued to maintain financial and often personal relationships with countries that have terrible human rights records, including LGBTQ rights. Understanding that the world financial relationships are complicated, what's your stance on working with these countries that have documented human rights violations towards the LGBTQ community?

WARREN: So I'm glad you asked this for a couple of reasons. The first one is the reminder. Our responsibilities are not just to each other in this country. Our responsibilities run worldwide. And that's true whether we're talking about the AIDS epidemic or it's true whether we're talking about human rights violations.

So I believe what we need to do as a country, we need to bring more pressure to bear. And can I get wonky for just a minute about trade policy, of all things? Because it fits. Everyone around the world who has something to sell wants to get to you, wants to get to the American consumer. Why? Because we buy a lot of stuff. Right? And so everyone wants to be able to come and trade with us.

And we negotiate all kinds of trade deals to let them do that as most favored nations clauses -- that keep the tariffs low or nonexistent when they come to sell. We need to use that leverage to say, if you want to come and sell here, then you have to meet some basic standards. You want to sell your stuff? You've got to meet some standards.

Now, some of those are going to be labor standards, not surprisingly, what you pay people. You can't be producing these products with prison labor. Some of them are going to be environmental standards. You know, we won't let you pollute here in the United States. It can't be the case that you get to produce these products and sell them in the United States when you created huge carbon emissions somewhere else around the globe, because it hurts us all.


But a part of talking about these standards is to talk about the human rights standards and to say we want to use the leverage of our markets to raise human rights standards all around the globe. And I think we can do this. We need to use our leverage and work harder.


CUOMO: So let's take a for instance, because it's a bigger problem than I think people realize. You have 70 U.N. member countries that criminalize same-sex marriage. You have 68, I think, that criminalize same-sex acts. You have six that make it a death penalty event if they get it. So sometimes coaxing isn't enough. What do you think is the hardest line you could take with someone like

Saudi Arabia? The former VP, Biden, said they don't have a lot of redeeming social characteristics. Well, does that mean you don't do aid to somebody like that, don't do trade with them?

WARREN: So I think you start out by saying, look, it's all going to be on the table. You want to come and do trade with us? Then let's talk about what your full record is.

I think this is important. I think for -- here's the problem, again, to get back into the wonky part of this. We've been cutting trade policies for years, and what are those trade policies always driven toward? Not American workers. Not American consumers. Not American values. What have they driven toward? Make giant multinational corporations more profitable. That's been it.


And I want you to think about what that means. Those corporations have no loyalty to America. None. They have loyalty to exactly one thing, and that is their bottom line. Ask them. I mean, they will actually say this pretty openly.

So that means if they can save a nickel by shipping a job to Mexico or to Vietnam or anywhere else around the world, they'll go save the nickel because it will improve their bottom line. So what we -- and the same thing is true everywhere. If they can sell their products in Saudi Arabia, that's what they want to do, if it improves their bottom line.

They don't want to hear that we could put other restrictions on trade, that we could use trade to lift standards all around the world, that we could use trade to lift regulatory standards all around the world, that we could use trade to lift how workers are treated all around the world.

And the reason for that is we have not had a government that is working on behalf of the American people. We've had a government and a trade policy that has been all about giant multinational corporations. That is corruption, and I plan to change it.


CUOMO: Senator Warren, thank you very much.

WARREN: Thank you.

CUOMO: Our thanks to the senator. Soon we're going to have former Congressman Beto O'Rourke on stage. But up next, Senator Kamala Harris. Stay with us.