8 landmark LGBT+ moments that defined the 2020 presidential election

Nick Duffy
·7-min read

As the US presidential election draws to a close, we take a look back at some of the LGBT+ moments that defined the campaign.

1. Pete Buttigieg made history and kissed his husband on stage.

If you think 2020 has been a long year for you, spare a thought for the continually-evolving Pete Buttigieg, who in the space of one year has gone from small-town mayor to short-lived Democratic frontrunner, to unemployed, to best-selling author and podcast host, to semi-professional Fox News dominator – with plenty of room left for a position in Joe Biden’s cabinet.

The former South Bend mayor made the most of his moment in the spotlight during the Democratic primaries, and his unapologetic kiss with husband Chasten at his 2019 campaign launch was one of the defining moments in the campaign.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg greets his husband Chasten Glezman (R) after announcing that he will be seeking the Democratic nomination for president during a rally in the old Studebaker car factory on April 14, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg greets his husband Chasten Glezman (R) after announcing that he will be seeking the Democratic nomination for president during a rally in the old Studebaker car factory on April 14, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. (Scott Olson/Getty)

Far from hiding his spouse away in the shadows, the pair’s relationship was foregrounded throughout his presidential campaign and beyond, with Chasten on hand to provide a hug or caustic Twitter wit at every opportunity.

While 2019 might feel like a long time ago now, the Buttigieg campaign shattered a glass barrier that will help many LGBT+ candidates for high office in future.

2. Every Democratic presidential candidate vowed to scrap Trump’s trans military ban.

While the Democrats were divided on many issues during the Presidential primaries, there was one thing that they remained united on: overturning Donald Trump’s ban on trans people in the military.

In February, all of the remaining candidates – Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Mike Bloomberg, Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar and Tom Steyer – pledged to scrap the ban on trans people in the military.

Democratic presidential candidates Mike Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar
Democratic presidential candidates Mike Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Biden said: “It’s simple: every American who is qualified to serve, should be able to – and we should all be grateful for their service and courage.

“On day one of my presidency, I will direct the department of defence to allow transgender service members to serve openly and free from discrimination. I know that this is not just the right thing to do, but it’s in our national interest.”

3. Joe Biden sets out an ambitious LGBT+ rights election platform.

While Donald Trump remained entirely silent on policies for LGBT+ voters, Joe Biden produced the most ambitious plan ever set out by a presidential candidate.

In the plan first set out in March, Biden pledged to sign the Equality Act within his first 100 days, amending the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Election platform: LGBT+ rights were a plank of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris campaign pledges. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
LGBT+ rights were a plank of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris campaign pledges. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

He promised to reverse the Trump administration’s trans-hostile policies, and introduce reforms to make it easier for trans people to update their government-issued IDs, including gender-neutral passports.

The Democrat also pledged to protect LGBT+ people from discrimination, to end the “epidemic of violence” against the transgender community, to expand access to health care for LGBT+ individuals, and to ensure fair treatment of LGBT+ individuals in the criminal justice system.

4. Joe Biden shared a personal moment with mother of young trans kid.

In October, Joe Biden shared a personal moment with a mother who has a young transgender child.

Mieke Haeck, a physical therapist and “proud mom” of an eight-year-old transgender daughter, asked Biden about the Trump administration’s attacks on trans rights at the town hall event.

“How will you, as president, reverse this dangerous and discriminatory agenda and ensure that the lives and rights of LGBTQ people are protected under US law?” Haeck asked.

“I will flat out just change the law,” Biden replied without hesitation. “Eliminate those executive orders, number one.”

He continued: “The idea that an eight-year-old child or 10-year-old child decides, you know, ‘I decided I want to be transgender. That’s what I decided I’d like to be. It would make my life a lot easier.’ There should be zero discrimination.

“And what’s happening is, too much transgender women of colour are being murdered, they’re being murdered.”

5. We all watched Anderson Cooper experience a slow-burning dumpster fire in real time.

While Donald Trump vented and democratic norms burned, there was always one man at least slightly still semi-attached to reality: CNN anchor and bona fide daddy Anderson Cooper.

The anchor did his level best to keep us all tethered to a sense of normality across the election period, whether he was calmly debunking Donald Trump’s claims about coronavirus, calmly debunking Donald Trump’s claims about Democrats, or calmly debunking Donald Trump’s claims about election rigging. Who doesn’t love a man with range?

Of course, things sometimes get a bit much even for a seasoned TV host, as it seemed to for Cooper when Donald Trump opted to play “Macho Man” at a rally for the umpteenth time.

6. The Trumps made a desperate and chaotic plea for gay votes.

After a solid four years seeking to undermine LGBT+ rights at every turn, parts of the Trump campaign apparently realised that LGBT+ people are a substantial part of the electorate and that there should be some sort of attempt to court them.

The result was hardly full-throated, with Donald Trump too busy washing his hair – or, at least, having it dry cleaned – to make it to a single event held under the Trump Pride banner.

Instead, gay former ambassador Richard Grenell was wheeled out, swiftly earning the nickname “Gaslight Grenell” for his willingness to handwave every anti-LGBT+ action taken under the Trump administration, as well as repeatedly touting of a US-led global campaign to decriminalise homosexuality that all evidence suggests does not actually exist.

While many members of the Trump clan are known for their animus towards parts of the LGBT+ community, Grenell’s sparsely-attended events were addressed by some of the more extraneous members of the family, including the president’s younger daughter Tiffany Trump and daughter-in-law Lara Trump.

Tiffany Trump got off to a chaotic start by promising a “cure for AIDS”, boasting about having “gay best friends”, getting the LGBT+ initialism wrong, and attempting to airbrush her father’s lengthy record undermining equal rights.

7. LGBT+ voters overwhelmingly opted for Joe Biden on election day.

While the Trump campaign sought to capitalise on the gay vote, polling suggests LGBT+ voters overwhelmingly favoured Joe Biden on election day.

An exit poll conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool found that Biden maintained a considerable lead among LGBT+ voters, but straight and cis people were more evenly divided.

Election candidates US President Donald Trump and former US Vice President Joe Biden
US President Donald Trump and Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI,JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Of those who identified as LGBT+, 61 per cent said they were voting for Joe Biden, while just 27 per cent opted for Donald Trump.

By contrast, non-LGBT+ respondents were split between the two candidates, with polling finding 51 per cent opted for Biden and 47 per cent for Trump.

8. Down the ballot, LGBT+ candidates made history.

While election night was tense at the top of the ticket, there was a lot to celebrate as a new rainbow wave of LGBT+ victories emerged across the country.

US election
A number of LGBT+ candidates were elected in a rainbow wave

Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres became the first out LGBT+ Black and Afro-Latino members of Congress, expanding the number of LGBT+ people serving in the chamber.

Meanwhile, Sarah McBride became the first transgender woman elected as a state senator in US history, while queer Muslim Mauree Turner became the very first non-binary state lawmaker in US history.

In Tennessee, out LGBT+ lawmakers were elected for the first time in the state’s history, while transgender Colorado lawmaker Brianna Titone won re-election despite Republicans launching vile transphobic ads in a bid to unseat her.