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Pence Must Answer for Abysmal LGBTQ Record

This op-ed originally appeared on USATODAY.com.

Before Donald Trump selected him to be his running mate in July, most Americans had only heard of Mike Pence on one previous occasion. It was March 2015 and Pence, as governor of Indiana, had signed a “license to discriminate” bill allowing businesses to refuse services to LGBTQ Hoosiers. Then he went on ABC’s This Week and refused eight times to simply even say he opposes discrimination against this community.

The backlash was enormous. Companies like Angie’s List and Salesforce scrapped plans to do business in Indiana, and more than 130 technology industry CEOs and executives signed a statement by the Human Rights Campaign calling for all state legislatures to pass comprehensive non-discrimination protections.

When all was said and done, Pence’s misguided move cost Indiana at least $60 million in lost revenue and 12 conventions. The damage he inflicted on his state’s reputation also cost him in public support. In a recent poll, only 36% of Indiana’s voters said that Pence deserved re-election.

Pence has never left any question about his views on gay rights. When he was in Congress, he said allowing same-sex couples to marry could bring about “societal collapse,” and he supported a constitutional amendment that would have banned marriage equality. He also voted against basic non-discrimination protection for workers, which he said “wages war on freedom of religion in the workplace.”

Pence also voted against our right to serve openly in the military and even against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which he called part of a “radical social agenda.” And perhaps most offensive of all, he proposed shifting HIV and AIDS funding from organizations that he claimed “celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus” to those that support the abusive practice of so-called “conversion therapy.”

Yet watching Tuesday night’s one and only vice presidential debate, you never would have known that Pence built his political career in this manner. In a debate that lasted 90 minutes, Pence was never once asked by the moderator about this defining part of his record — one that’s out of step with the 7 in 10 Americans, including large majorities of Republicans and Indiana residents, who believe LGBTQ people deserve full equality under the law.

Faith and values have led Clinton and Kaine to much more inclusive views on LGBTQ equality. As secretary of State, Clinton declared before the international community that “gay rights are human rights,” and in the Senate, she was an original cosponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. As governor, Kaine protected Virginia state workers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Today the pair are running on the most robust LGBTQ agenda ever proposed by a presidential ticket. Clinton says her “highest priority” is to pass and sign into law the Equality Act, landmark legislation co-sponsored by Kaine that would protect all LGBTQ people from discrimination under our federal civil rights laws.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence owe answers to voters, particularly the more than 9 million LGBTQ adults whose lives will be deeply impacted by this election. We deserve to hear debate and discussion about why they have repeatedly attacked us for political gain and are running on an agenda that would strip away decades of progress.

Kaine told CNN on Thursday that he would have loved to debate Pence on their respective LGBTQ records. There was a conversation about all this Tuesday night, not onstage but online. Millions of people were part of a nationally trending discussion on Twitter and other platforms that was hashtagged — after Trump’s infamous retort about his record — #AskTheGays.

It should tell the news networks something that these issues drove so much of the organic conversation around the vice presidential debate, and yet weren’t deemed important enough to merit a single question directly to the candidates.