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Equality in America Town Hall with Julian Castro (D), Presidential Candidate. Aired 11-11:30p ET

Aired October 10, 2019 - 23:00   ET



HENDERSON: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall, Equality in America. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson. And for those of you who are just joining us, we're live from the Novo in Los Angeles.

Tonight, CNN and the Human Rights Campaign are hosting the top Democratic presidential candidates so that they can answer the LGBTQ community's most pressing questions. And we're going to welcome our next candidate, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.


HENDERSON: How are you, sir? It's great to see you.


HENDERSON: So we're going to just jump right in. We've got a question here from Kelly Sherman. She's a restaurant owner from Napa, California. Kelly, what is your question?

QUESTION: Hi, thanks for being here. What advice would you give our community on what and how to communicate to their family and friends, who love and support us, that voting for Trump and the GOP so negatively and personally impacts our lives and is a betrayal for our fight for equality?

CASTRO: First of all, thank you very much for that question. Thank you, CNN, for hosting this and HRC for hosting us, as well.

Let me begin by saying that I know that there's no way that I have more insight in terms of how to speak to these issues than someone who is living the experience right now. However, what I will say is that I think that the most powerful thing folks can do is to share their experience, to speak their truth, to connect from their heart.

And that's, really, I believe over the years what has moved people. That's the reason that we've seen a sea change in terms of Americans' attitudes towards equality. And when folks have spoken to me about both the pain and also the joy -- the pain of feeling discriminated against and also the joy of that day when marriage equality became real in the United States, that has been the most moving.

And so I think that when we talk to -- when you talk to friends, family, talking about the personal experience, how it has impacted you, from your heart, I believe that that's most likely to move people, no matter who they are, no matter what their views are.

HENDERSON: And next, Secretary Castro, I want to bring in Shea Diamond, a singer-songwriter from Los Angeles. She currently supports Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Shea, what's your question?

QUESTION: It's "Shea" Diamond.

HENDERSON: "Shea" Diamond.

QUESTION: Put that on record.


HENDERSON: It's on the record. Thank you.

QUESTION: Yes, honey. It's violence to misgender or to alter a name of a trans person, so let's always get that right first.

So the first thing I would like to say is the National Trans Visibility March happened last week and we didn't see much representation from cisgendered people. And we want to just know, if you are elected as president, will you have a group of transgender people to counsel you or advise you?

CASTRO: Shea...


CASTRO: All right. I absolutely would do that. And in this campaign, we have been making sure to reach out to people, including transgender individuals, as I speak out on issues important to the LGBTQ community and important to our forward progress as a country.

And also, you know, I think one of the things that's important to voters, of course, is people's track records. And every time I have had the opportunity to in public service, I have worked to expand equality. When I was mayor of San Antonio, for instance, one of the things that we did was that we passed a non-discrimination ordinance in 2013 that was groundbreaking for that city in Texas.

And during that process -- and maybe some of y'all have seen this before -- during that process, there were some folks, even people that supported in concept the ordinance, who suggested that we should leave out the transgender community because that might be more politically feasible. And we said no. We included the transgender community, because we wanted to make sure that it protected everybody.

When I was secretary of housing and urban development, one of the things that I did was that I expanded the equal access rule to the transgender community so that transgender individuals when they go, for instance, to a publicly funded shelter...

(APPLAUSE) ... that they're accommodated according to how they prefer, how they're comfortable. And I absolutely will make sure both that my administration looks like America, that it is inclusive, and that we listen to people, listen to transgender individuals who are the ones experiencing, you know, both the challenges and the opportunities that are created because of the policies that are passed in Washington, D.C., and our state capitols and at city halls across the United States.

HENDERSON: All right. The next question comes from Brandon Broukhim, a junior at UCLA. He's currently interning for Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman. Brandon, what's your question?

QUESTION: Hi, Senator -- Secretary Castro. Thank you for coming out. My family fled from Iran back in 1979 following the revolution. And since then, the regime has continued to hang people identifying as LGBTQ on construction cranes in public areas. Not only in Iran, but worldwide, over one-third of countries still consider homosexuality a crime. What will your administration do to advance the rights of the LGBTQ community worldwide and target regimes that still violently infringe upon these human rights?

CASTRO: Thank you very much for that question. And you're right, throughout the world today, we have countries that are openly violating the human rights of the LGBTQ community, in some cases subjecting them to injury and to murder.

What I believe is that the United States needs to stand up for human rights, including the human rights of people from the LGBTQ community, and to make foreign aid contingent upon countries improving in that regard, because I don't think that it's enough for us to just say words. We actually have to take action. We have to make that meaningful. And I would do that as president.

I also believe that our asylum policies, for instance, should reflect our values. Just a couple days ago, I went down to Matamoros, Mexico, which is on the other side of Brownsville, Texas. And I was there to highlight the challenges that members of the LGBTQ community are facing. These are folks who are applying for asylum in the United States but in an unprecedented way the Trump administration is making them remain in Mexico until their asylum claim is adjudicated.

But the eight members of the LGBTQ community that I was there with, they were fleeing persecution, violence, threats, and they're experiencing those same kinds of things right now. And so they should never have been put into that program in the first place. They deserve asylum.


And, you know, just like -- just like we went over there to highlight justice for them, as president, I will make sure that we act towards justice for all members of the LGBTQ community, whether they're in the United States, whether they're seeking asylum, or whether they live in other countries.

QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary Castro.

HENDERSON: And our next question comes from Julie Bondy, who's originally from Michigan and now lives in Alameda, California. She's an engineer for a biotechnology company. Julie, your question for Secretary Castro.

QUESTION: Good evening. My question is -- well, five years ago, I helped pass an antidiscrimination ordinance within the largest city in the state of Michigan. Within two months, a group of religious leaders were able to get it repealed. That was five years ago, and nothing has changed. My question to you is, as president, what would you do to help prevent religious organizations or any other organization from utilizing their faiths or beliefs as a reason to discriminate?

CASTRO: Yeah, Julie...

HENDERSON: And I'm just going to jump in here just for some clarification here. City officials eventually repealed the ordinance that Julie is talking about after about 6,000 residents signed a petition.

CASTRO: So I just want to make sure that I'm clear on what happened. Y'all passed an ordinance that was beneficial, that was protecting the LGBTQ community? There was a lot of pushback and eventually that ordinance was repealed?


CASTRO: So you went backward, basically, after the politicians got a lot of pressure. Number one, if I'm elected president, the first order of business on January 20, 2021, will be to have a catalog of all of the different executive actions that this president, this administration has taken, including exemptions that they've created or rolled back to that allow people to discriminate against the LGBTQ community using as the reason their religion or the excuse their religion. I will go back to what we did in the Obama administration and then take it to the next level to protect the LGBTQ community.


I don't believe that anybody should be able to discriminate against you because you are a member of the LGBTQ community. I don't believe that folks should be getting funding if they're doing that. I don't believe in the health care context, the housing context, the employment context that people should be able to do that. I support the Equality Act. I would work to pass that.

When I was secretary of housing and urban development, we did the transgender rule, which as I mentioned, expanded the equal access rule so that transgender individuals could find shelter in a manner that they're comfortable with, in accordance to their preference, and that's what I would do as president.

The last thing I'll say about this is that, you know, I think as a Catholic -- and I'm sure we have many people of faith -- I think we need to end this myth that these two things are separate. There are a lot of people in the LGBTQ community that are also people of faith. They're religious. They believe.


But, you know, the other side always acts like those two are completely separate. They're not. The LGBTQ community includes people of faith who oftentimes, as I have heard over the years, have suffered through even with their faith holding onto that faith as the institutions that they belong to oftentimes have put them down, have characterized them as "the other."

And, you know, we can't do anything about the institutions, the religious institutions themselves. But when it comes to government funding or how our laws treat people, everybody is going to be treated the same. There's not going to be any second-class citizens in the United States.


HENDERSON: And I want to now bring in Carlos Mitchell. He is retired and living in Anaheim. Carlos, your question?

QUESTION: Yes. I am one of many LGBT in this country who live in subsidized housing due to a disability. The disability requires that we need -- this is the only type of housing we can afford. However, under the current administration, we are not fairly protected where we live. Will you in your first 100 days bring back the LGBTQ non- discrimination policies for HUD housing that were removed?



Thanks a lot for being here for your question. And I absolutely will. I'm very proud that during the two-and-a-half years that I was housing secretary that me and the people that worked at HUD, we had a role in expanding those protections.

It is a shame what this administration has done to roll them back. And the comments that Secretary Carson, my successor, made a couple of weeks ago are shameful. When you're housing secretary, you're there to serve everybody. And his comments made clear that he's not able to serve everybody. I believe that he should resign because of that, because he can't serve everybody.


As president, I would make sure not only that we appoint people, including members of the LGBTQ community, to the cabinet, to the White House staff, and other positions in the administration who are going to ensure that we expand equal opportunity, but we absolutely will strengthen protections in housing and employment and health care, in every other context for members of the LGBTQ community. Thank you for the question.

HENDERSON: And we're going to bring in Bonnie Valant-Spaight, a physicist who works in the aerospace industry. Bonnie, your question.

QUESTION: The Obama administration was the first to engage specifically with bisexual activists and educators in a roundtable discussion in 2013 and then with a follow-up meeting in 2016. Bisexuals face unique challenges in health care, sexual violence, and societal acceptance that have not yet been overcome. What would you do as president to support the bisexual community?


CASTRO: Thank you. Thank you very much for the question. I believe that we should build on the work of President Obama and the Obama administration, including to make sure that bisexual voices are represented in the administration and that they're part of the feedback and the input that we got going forward on administrative actions and also as we push legislation.

I also think one of the things that -- I haven't caught everybody's presentation tonight and the questions that have come up, but at least I haven't heard it in the ones that I have. One of the things that I thought was really spectacular that happened over the course of the last year was that in Illinois, Illinois became the first state to require that in its public school curriculum that LGBTQ history be taught.


That is a milestone, including for the bisexual community. I believe that one of the things that we need to do is that we need to make sure that we raise a generation of young people who have a greater understanding and more appreciation for all of our American family, who -- you know, who doesn't just see the LGBTQ community as different and doesn't see the LGBTQ community as making a choice or choosing a lifestyle, but understands that that is who people are, that is who -- that is identity.

And when it comes to the bisexual community, I think that that's equally true. And I'll make sure that those voices are at the table and also that we do what we can to raise a generation of Americans that is understanding, as we would hope the people should be.

HENDERSON: All right, next question for Secretary Castro. We're going to bring in John Blevins. He's a technology strategist from here in Los Angeles. He's an adjunct professor at UCLA and he currently supports Mayor Pete Buttigieg. John?

QUESTION: Thank you. So this community has been traumatized by gun violence and mass shootings, just as many other communities have. However, this community has faced life-threatening dangers in the past, and we have been successful in changing public attitudes faster than we anticipated, because we've had this extreme cross-cultural and cross-societal makeup. Yet we haven't seen a presidential candidate that has leveraged our movement strengths to bring about gun reform. How would you?

CASTRO: Thank you very much for that question. And, of course, you're right that whether it was what happened in Orlando at the Pulse nightclub or the kind of gun violence that we see perpetrated against members of the LGBTQ community all the time, the 19 transgender individuals so far...



CASTRO: Twenty now. Excuse me, twenty transgender individuals so far this year who have been murdered. The LGBTQ community, in fact, has a lot of unfortunate experience with gun violence.

At the same time, one of the most effective movements of the last half-century has been the movement toward marriage equality and expanding equality for the LGBTQ community. And that was the result of tremendous organizing.

And so you make a great point. How would I leverage that? Well, number one, it would take bringing people who have been involved in that movement to the table, making sure that they're part of our effort to get legislation passed. I've put out a plan called my plan to disarm hate that includes commonsense gun safety legislation and also includes giving the tools that we need to law enforcement to root out extremism.

I think that what we've learned, over the last decade especially, is that a president cannot do this alone. If we're going to pass truly universal health care, if we're going to pass immigration reform that uses common sense and compassion instead of cruelty, if we're going to pass commonsense gun safety legislation, it doesn't stop at the election. It doesn't stop at the election by any stretch of the imagination.

It's going to take the people continuing in their neighborhoods, in their communities, in their cities, their towns, their states, across our country to organize and to push their politicians to do the right thing, and that is where the experience of people who have been part of this successful movement can be part of that.

And so I would seek their participation in trying to create that movement beginning from January 20, 2021, onward until we get commonsense gun safety legislation and then actually beyond that, on to the next fight, because they never end.

HENDERSON: I want to next bring in Josh Kitchen. Josh works at a non-profit here in Los Angeles and he supports Elizabeth Warren. Josh, what's your question?

QUESTION: Secretary Castro, I have a very close family member who is trans. And since coming out, their housing situation has been pretty unstable. And it's also taking a toll on their mental health. What will you do specifically to help end stigma around trans identity? And what would you do to address the growing number of homelessness among trans youth, and especially trans youth of color?

(APPLAUSE) CASTRO: Yeah. I appreciate the opportunity to answer this question. You know, when I was at HUD, one of the things that we worked on was to try and get more funds for youth homelessness, to address youth homelessness. And as been stated today before, and I know many of the folks here know, in some communities, up to 40 percent of young people who are homeless come from the LGBTQ community, and transgender individuals have a particularly high rate of homelessness.

I've laid out in my housing plan dedicating resources to make sure that we both create enough housing and then provide enough housing opportunity especially to vulnerable communities. And so some of the things that I would do, for instance, is, number one, I would enforce our antidiscrimination laws to include the LGBTQ community.

Like, I'll give you a good example of this. Right now, we know that if you're from the LGBTQ community, certainly if you're transgender, you are experiencing discrimination when you go and try and look for an apartment or a house. But we actually have not been as good at measuring that and then holding people accountable as we should. I would hold them accountable when people discriminate against the LGBTQ community.

In addition to that, I have called for making our housing choice voucher program an entitlement program, so that if you earn less than 50 percent of the area median income in your area, you would be able to get a housing choice voucher.

And we would invest so that we create 3 million more units of housing that is affordable to the middle class, to the working poor, and the poor, over the next 10 years.

My plan also calls for investing the resources that we need to end homelessness in our country by 2028, which sounds very ambitious, because it is, except until we realize that in the Obama administration, we cut veteran homelessness by 47 percent between 2010 and 2016. We cut it almost in half. We can do the same thing for vulnerable communities, including transgender individuals. And I'm committed to doing that.


HENDERSON: We're going to bring in Judith Dominguez, who works in the financial industry. Judith's former employer canceled her wife's health insurance coverage citing religious opposition to same-sex marriage. It cost the couple tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. Judith, what's your question?

QUESTION: My question today is, I am here with my wife. And we're members of the LGBT community. How can you ensure that corporations that have self-funded insurance plans do not use religious reasons to deny same-sex couples the same rights, medical insurance, and benefits as heterosexual couples? And how can we work to ensure that states do not pass laws that legalize this type of discrimination?

CASTRO: Judith?


CASTRO: Thank you very much for that question. And that's a question that is on the minds of so many people because a lot of folks have also had that same experience.

Number one, I want to make sure that no matter who you are in this country, that every single person in this country has good, quality health care. And I support a health care system that is based on strengthening Medicare for the people who are on it and then making sure that it's available to everybody who wants it.

I also believe that if somebody has a solid, a strong health insurance plan, private health insurance plan, that they should be able to hold onto that, that we can achieve both of those things, and that's where your question comes in, as well, if you have a self-funded plan. I don't believe that people should be able -- these companies should be able to discriminate because they say they have a religious belief against the LGBTQ community, that that should be prohibited by law. That's what I support, and that's what I believe that we need to work toward, so that no matter who you are, whether you choose to get a strong Medicare-based plan or you want to stay with a strong private health insurance plan, that you're able to choose which plan you want unobstructed by the bigotry of anybody in this country.


HENDERSON: And, Secretary, you talked a bit about your Catholic faith earlier. I wonder if you can talk about the ways in which your faith have shaped your views of LGBTQ rights, including on same-sex marriage?

CASTRO: Yeah, you know, what my faith teaches me is that we should all love one another, love thy neighbor, and the golden rule. At the most core, basic tenets of so many faiths, and also of people who choose not to believe, just their own personal beliefs, is this sense that we should treat everybody with the same dignity and respect and compassion.

That is for me over the years what has attracted me about the Catholic faith is the social justice component of it. And that teaches a lesson of equality. And I know that obviously, whether it's the Catholic faith or it's other faiths, oftentimes that has been put antagonistically against the LGBTQ community. But I don't believe that that is actually the teaching of the Bible.

I believe in a God that sees us all as worthy and as having dignity and deserving of the same things. And if I'm president, that's the perspective that I'm going to bring with my own faith for the LGBTQ community, for those little children that are sleeping with mylar blankets in cages, so that we treat them with compassion and dignity, and for every other person who is vulnerable and who is suffering and who is in pain, we're going to go from an administration of cruelty to an administration of compassion.

Thank you very much.


HENDERSON: Thank you so much, Secretary Castro, for being here.

CASTRO: Thank you.

HENDERSON: Up next, our final candidate of the night, businessman Tom Steyer.