A 2020 presidential hopeful has recently come under fire following allegations she worked for an anti-LGBTQ organization which promoted conversion therapy.
U.S. House Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) issued an apology on Monday after CNN reported she worked for the Alliance for Traditional Marriage at the age of 17. Gabbard’s father, Mike, founded the pro-family group, which was originally called Stop Promoting Homosexuality America. It was effectively disbanded in 2004.
In 1998, Mr. Gabbard posted a message to the organization’s website expressing support for discredited treatments seeking to “cure” homosexuality.
“[W]e must… renew our efforts to reach out with love and compassion to those who are addicted to homosexual behavior,” he claimed, “and encourage them to seek help through the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), ‘ex-gay’ ministries such as Exodus International, Courage, Homosexuals Anonymous and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (P-FOX).”
At the time, Tulsi Gabbard dismissed criticism of her family’s anti-LGBTQ activism as the work of extremists.
When her mother, Carol Porter Gabbard, ran for the Hawaii Board of Education in 2000, Tulsi Gabbard claimed “homosexual activists” were engaging in a “war of deception and hatred” to stop her campaign.
“They know, that if elected, [my mother] will not allow them to force their values down the throats of the children in our schools,” the younger Gabbard said.
As the youngest-ever elected lawmaker in the Hawaii State Legislature, Tulsi Gabbard doubled down on her parents’ opposition to equality. When Hawaii voted in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, her father’s organization spent more than $93,000 in support of the ban.
Then 21, Tulsi Gabbard claimed her father was merely trying “to protect traditional marriage.”
“I learned that real leaders are willing to make personal sacrifices for the common good,” Gabbard told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in an interview. “I will bring that attitude of public service to the legislature.”
During her single term in Hawaii’s legislature, the Democratic lawmaker opposed bills legalizing civil unions and protecting bullied LGBTQ youth.
In a speech to fellow House representatives, Gabbard warned the anti-bullying legislation would lead to children being taught that homosexuality is “normal and natural.” She also expressed concern that “homosexual advocacy organizations” would infiltrate K-12 schools to “promote their agenda to our vulnerable youth.”
But days after announcing her intention to take on President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, Tulsi Gabbard expressed “regret” for her anti-equality stances.
“I’m grateful for those in the LGBTQ community who have shared their aloha with me throughout my personal journey,” she said in a statement to CNN. “Much work remains to ensure equality and civil rights protections for LGBTQ Americans and if elected president, I will continue to fight for equal rights for all.”
INTO reached out to Gabbard’s office to inquire about how her opinions on conversion therapy have changed over the past decade. This publication did not receive a statement prior to press time but will update should one be provided.
LGBTQ groups said Gabbard must expound on her LGBTQ rights platform—including her views on conversion therapy—if she intends to campaign in 2020.
“This will be a robust primary with many champions of equality in the race,” said
Stephen Peters, Human Rights Campaign’s Senior National Press Secretary, said in an email to INTO: “Anyone running for president and trying to win the support of the 10 million LGBTQ voters and our allies will have to not only explain past positions but articulate a vision and agenda for the future.”
Orientation change efforts, which entail a range of practices from shock treatment to talk therapy, remain legal in 36 states. These states include Arizona, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.
Gabbard’s home state, however, passed a law banning conversion therapy in 2018.
But as states like Colorado, Maine, and New York move to join the growing list of states banning conversion therapy, others say Gabbard’s “personal journey” on the issue mirrors the public’s own evolution on reparative treatments.
“Every day more Americans like Rep. Tulsi Gabbard are coming to understand the dangers of conversion therapy, which too often contributes to depression and increased risk of suicidal behavior,” said Sam Brinton, Head of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project, in a statement shared with INTO.
Gabbard is one of four candidates to officially declare their intention to run for president in 2020. Others include former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass).
Warren also recently apologized for missteps in her record on LGBTQ rights.
During her 2012 campaign against Republican Scott Brown for governor of Massachusetts, the progressive standard-bearer claimed gender-affirming surgeries for transgender prisoners are not “a good use of taxpayer dollars.”
A spokesperson for Warren claimed those were no longer the candidate’s views.
“Senator Warren supports access to medically necessary services, including transition-related surgeries,” the spokesperson for her exploratory campaign told ThinkProgress. “This includes procedures taking place at the VA, in the military, or at correctional facilities.”
Both Warren and Gabbard earned perfect ratings of 100 on the most recent HRC Congressional Scorecard, indicating universal support for LGBTQ equality.
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