In the early 2000s, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard worked for her father’s anti-gay PAC, the Alliance for Traditional Marriage, which promoted conversion therapy, according to CNN. Conversion therapy is now considered psychologically damaging and banned in many states. Gabbard announced this week that she’ll run for president in the 2020 Democratic primary.
In recent years, Gabbard’s view of gay rights has changed, and she has supported efforts to protect gay marriage. But back in the early 2000s, when she first ran for the Hawaii state legislature, her stance was aligned with anti-gay orthodoxy.
“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,” she told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 2002.
Gabbard was young then—at 21 she became the youngest woman ever elected to the Hawaii state legislature.
Gabbard’s father was an anti-gay activist who was seemingly obsessed with stamping out homosexuality. In addition to his PAC, he was the director of an organization called Stop Promoting Homosexuality. He also “served on the steering committees of the National Campaign to Protect Marriage and the Hawaii-based coalition, Save Traditional Marriage,” according to CNN.
His PAC called homosexuality “unhealthy, abnormal behavior that should not be promoted or accepted in society.”
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.
In 2000, Gabbard was quoted in a press release from the Alliance for Traditional Marriage.
“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 said.
And as late as 2004, Gabbard opposed even civil unions for gay people.
“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 said in opposition to a proposed civil union bill in the Hawaii legislature. “As Democrats we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists.”
When Gabbard ran for Congress in 2012, she apologized to gay activists for her past views.
“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,” she said. “I know that those comments have been hurtful and I sincerely offer my apology to you and hope that you will accept it.”
Gabbard served in Iraq, and said last month in New Hampshire that the experience broadened her ideas about what role the government should have in dictating peoples behavior. She 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.”
Former President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton went through their own transformations with regards to gay rights. In his state Senator days, Obama was in favor of gay marriage, but he backed off the idea as he entered Congress and prepared to run for president, before switching again during his presidency. Clinton, meanwhile, equivocated on gay marriage for years before coming out in support of it in the run up to her second presidential campaign. Neither of them, however, ever worked like Gabbard has to limit gay rights.