Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) announced last week that she’s running for president, and in the days since, the conversation has quickly focused on her past record opposing LGBTQ equality.
The earliest days of Gabbard’s political career were spent at her father’s organization The Alliance for Traditional Marriage, which campaigned for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Hawaii. Mike Gabbard also led a coalition called Stop Promoting Homosexuality, and hosted an anti-gay radio show called Let’s Talk Straight Hawaii. He openly promoted ex-gay ministries, encouraging those “who are addicted to homosexual behavior” to seek help through conversion therapy.
In 2000, Gabbard’s mother Carol Gabbard was running for Hawaii Board of Education, and 19-year-old Tulsi defended her against attacks from LGBTQ activists. “This war of deception and hatred against my mom is being waged by homosexual activists because they know, that if elected, she will not allow them to force their values down the throats of the children in our schools,” she said at the time.
A few years later, Gabbard — the youngest lawmaker ever elected to the Hawaii state legislature — testified against a civil unions bill. “To try to act as if there is a difference between ‘civil unions’ and same-sex marriage is dishonest, cowardly and extremely disrespectful to the people of Hawaii,” she insisted, warning how LGBTQ activists were trying to impose their agenda. “As Democrats we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists.”
When she ran for Congress in 2012, Gabbard apologized for her past “hurtful” comments to the LGBTQ community. Since then, she has actually had a fairly strong record of supporting LGBTQ equality, including co-sponsoring The Equality Act. The Human Rights Campaign gave her a score of 100 for her votes during the 115th Congress, with scores of 88 and 92 for the previous two sessions, respectively.
Still, progressives might have reason to be concerned about her more recent social positions. In an op-ed just last week, Gabbard excoriated fellow lawmakers who “incite bigotry based on religion.” Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) had criticized Brian Buescher, one President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, for his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization that has campaigned heavily against LGBTQ equality and a woman’s right to have an abortion. Gabbard accused them of engaging in anti-Catholic religious bigotry for questioning his affiliation with the controversial group.
Opponents of LGBTQ equality have long claimed that its advances infringe upon their “religious freedom.” Indeed, several cases seeking Supreme Court review involve businesses refusing service or employment to LGBTQ people based on their religious beliefs. Despite this claim, studies have shown that those who defend such discrimination do so regardless of whether it’s motivated by religious beliefs or not. Gabbard seems to subscribe to the same disingenuous interpretation of “religious freedom” to defend a powerful and politically influential organization like the Knights of Columbus.
In response to fresh scrutiny of her past statements, Gabbard issued a new statement to CNN indicating that she “regret[s] the positions” she took in the past. “I’m grateful for those in the LGBTQ+ community who have shared their aloha with me throughout my personal journey.” After boasting her support for various pro-LGBTQ bills during her time in Congress, she added, “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.”