If you weren’t watching CNN’s LGBTQ Town Hall on Thursday night, then you might have caught a highlight clip of Elizabeth Warren’s comment about what she would say to a supporter who believes that marriage is between a man and a woman. Warren said, “I’m going to say, then just marry one woman. I’m cool with that. Assuming you can find one.”
The line received a sea of applause and countless Twitter reactions. And fair enough: it was a good line that highlighted Warren’s quick-wittedness and basic moral compass. It was the kind of soundbite that campaigns live for.
But the actual standout of the forum were the protestors who interrupted it to address the plight of black transgender women, whose murders are reaching epidemic proportions: There have been 18 known murders of black trans women in 2019 so far.
During Kamala Harris’s town hall, an audience member cried out, “How do we get those men to stop killing trans women of color? We are hunted.”
Harris said, “You’re right... I hear you.”
Protesters also interrupted the town hall of Pete Buttigieg, shouting, “Trans lives matter” and “People are dying—do something!”
CNN’s Anderson Cooper said, “Let me just point out, there is a long and proud tradition in history in the gay, lesbian and transgender community of protest and we applaud them for their protest... And they are absolutely right to be angry and upset at the lack of attention, particularly in the media, of the lives of transgender [people].”
Buttigieg offered: “I do want to acknowledge what these demonstrators are speaking about, which is the epidemic of violence against black trans women.”
He later added that he is “very mindful of the fact that my experience as a gay man, but as a white cisgendered gay man, means that there are dimensions, for example, of what it’s like to be a black trans woman that I do not personally understand. But I also think the diversity within the LGBTQ-plus community is part of what we have to offer right now.”
Protest also broke out during Beto O’Rourke’s town hall, when black trans actress Blossom C. Brown took the mic away from a questioner to address the fact that no black trans people had yet been given the opportunity to ask a question that night:
“Black trans women are being killed in this country, and CNN, you have erased black trans women for the last time!” Brown said. “Black trans women are dying, our lives matter! I am an extraordinary black trans woman, and I deserve to be here!”
CNN’s Don Lemon, oozing condescension, invited Brown to approach the stage and told her that they’re having this town hall to “validate people like you.”
Brown, understandably, bristled. “Not one black trans woman has taken the mic tonight,” she pointed out. “Not one black trans man has taken the mic tonight... your actions have to speak louder than words.”
Blossom also tweeted about the disparity, to which O’Rourke replied on Twitter after the town hall, thanking her for speaking up:
Breakout moments can’t just be feel-good quips that trigger GIFs of Ilana Glazer mouthing “yas queen.” The most powerful moments of last night’s town hall were often its most painful—exchanges that don’t make for a tight and zippy soundbite that flatter a preferred candidate. We need breakout moments that unmask our ugliness, too.