Rep. Tulsi Gabbard in the early 2000s touted working for her father’s anti-gay organization, which mobilized to pass a measure against same-sex marriage in Hawaii and promoted controversial conversion therapy.
Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, said Friday in an interview with CNN’s Van Jones that she will seek her party’s nomination for president in 2020. Her past views and activism in opposition to LGBT rights in the late 90s and early 2000s, which put her out of step with most of the Democratic Party at the time, have come under more intense scrutiny since her announcement.
Although Gabbard’s positions on LGBT rights have shifted dramatically in more recent years (she signed a 2013 amicus brief supporting Edith Windsor’s challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act), the extent of Gabbard’s past anti-gay activism has already drawn criticism from prominent Democrats and will likely be a major issue for her as she seeks the party’s nomination.
In a statement to CNN provided after the initial publication of this story, Gabbard said, “First, let me say I regret the positions I took in the past, and the things I said. I’m grateful for those in the LGBTQ+ community who have shared their aloha with me throughout my personal journey.”
She continued, “Over the past six years in Congress, I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to help work toward passing legislation that ensures equal rights and protections on LGBTQ+ issues, such as the Equality Act, the repeal of DOMA, Restore Honor to Service members Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Equality for All Resolution. 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.”
Gabbard’s past positions can be traced back to the early 2000s, when she first sought public office.
During her run for state legislature in 2002, Gabbard told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, “Working with my father, Mike Gabbard, and others to pass a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage, I learned that real leaders are willing to make personal sacrifices for the common good. I will bring that attitude of public service to the legislature.” The quote, which CNN’s KFile found during a review of Gabbard’s early career, shows how closely she aligned herself with her father’s mission at the time.
Gabbard’s father ran The Alliance for Traditional Marriage, a political action committee aimed at opposing pro-gay lawmakers and legislation that organized and spent more than $100,000 to pass an amendment in 1998 that gave the Hawaii state legislature power to “reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.” The amendment to the state’s constitution passed.
Gabbard was 17 at the time of the vote and cited working with her father and the organization during her run for the state legislature in Hawaii four years later when she was age 21. Gabbard would win her race, becoming the youngest woman elected to the Hawaii state legislature.
Gabbard’s father Mike was a prominent anti-gay activist in Hawaii. He was also the director of Stop Promoting Homosexuality and also served on the steering committees of the National Campaign to Protect Marriage and the Hawaii-based coalition, Save Traditional Marriage. He also once hosted an anti-gay radio show, Let’s Talk Straight Hawaii.
The Alliance for Traditional Marriage called homosexuality “unhealthy, abnormal behavior that should not be promoted or accepted in society.”
Listed among Gabbard’s past work in the profile by the Honolulu newspaper was her work at The Alliance for Traditional Marriage.
A CNN KFile review of the organization’s website, which is archived on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, uncovers the organization supported controversial gay conversion therapy, which treats homosexuality as a mental illness that can be fixed. The practice is opposed by the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association and has been banned for use on minors in 14 states and D.C., including Hawaii in 2018.
“Our win in Hawaii, along with Alaska’s victory, sends a very clear message to the homosexual movement-we do not want homosexual marriage advocates forcing their values on our communities,” Tulsi’s father Mike wrote in a message on the website of the group shortly after the passage of the constitutional amendment in 1998.
“It is now a time for healing and moving on,” he added. “While we must continue to monitor and respond to homosexual activists whose ultimate goal is societal acceptance of homosexuality on an equal basis as heterosexuality, we must also renew our efforts to reach out with love and compassion to those who are addicted to homosexual behavior, 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).”
Tulsi Gabbard herself is quoted in a 2000 press release from The Alliance for Traditional Marriage. In it, she attacks gay rights activists who were opposed to her mother Carol’s bid for the state’s board of education.
“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,” Gabbard is quoted as saying.
Tulsi Gabbard’s anti-gay efforts continued after she became a state representative.
Shortly after Gabbard announced her presidential ambitions Friday, her testimony at a hearing opposing a civil unions bill in 2004 resurfaced.
“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,” Gabbard said at the time. “As Democrats we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists.”
The resurfaced comments drew condemnation from former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the first governor in America to support civil unions and who sought the Democratic nomination in 2004.
“I was on the other side of this argument wearing a bulletproof vest while she was saying this,” Dean tweeted.
In 2012, when running for Congress, Gabbard apologized to LGBT activists in Hawaii for her past comments.
“I want to apologize for statements that I have made in the past that have been very divisive and even disrespectful to those within the LGBT community,” Gabbard said. “I know that those comments have been hurtful and I sincerely offer my apology to you and hope that you will accept it.”
Since joining Congress in 2013, Gabbard has supported efforts to promote LGBT equality, including co-sponsoring pro-LGBT legislation like The Equality Act, a bill to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect LGBT individuals.
“I grew up in a very kind of conservative household. A multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-faith home,” Gabbard said in New Hampshire in December, speaking to her shift. “Diverse in our makeup and diverse in our views. And I held views growing up that I no longer hold.”
Citing her time deployed overseas, Gabbard said she saw “the destructive effect of having governments who act as moral arbiters for their people.”
“That caused me to really deeply reflect and be introspective on the values and beliefs that I had grown up with what I was experiencing there,” she said. “And then coming back and eventually running for office again. And the conflict that I saw there, in standing for, believing strongly in, and fighting for these ideals of freedom and liberty that we hold dear in this country. It means that equality, that our laws, our government must apply that respect for every single individual. For people who choose to love or marry someone — whether they be of the same gender or not, that respect, and that freedom for every woman to be able to make her own choice about her body and her family and her future. So it was a process that I went through that changed my views in many ways and in many big ways to the views that I hold today.”