Tulsi Gabbard under fire for past anti-gay remarks amid 2020 bid, says she has since 'evolved'

Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard barely finished announcing she is running for president in 2020 when the spotlight quickly shifted to anti-gay comments and actions from her past.

Gabbard, a 37-year-old Democratic lawmaker from Hawaii, is known for being politically unpredictable, something she has publicly said she takes pride in. But some of her most fiery remarks against same-sex marriage in years past, as well as her active campaign to promote “traditional marriage” legislation, have drawn closer scrutiny since her announcement Friday.

In years past, she several times referred to LGBTQ  activists as “homosexual extremists,” a view that echoes that of her father, Mike Gabbard, whom a New Yorker profile of the congresswoman described as having long been “Hawaii’s leading opponent of the gay-rights movement, an energetic and often brusque activist who stood ever ready to denounce what he called ‘the radical homosexual agenda.’”

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Gabbard was a visible force against same-sex marriage, and in 2004 spearheaded a fight in the state against a same-sex union measure. “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 at the time. “As Democrats, we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists.”

Gabbard then also blasted Massachusetts’ passage of same-sex marriage legislation, making it the first in the nation to recognize gay marriage. Speaking on behalf of the Alliance for Traditional Marriage and Values, a group headed by her father, she said the Massachusetts marriage law would cause a ripple effect across the country.

“It is highly likely that federal judges will soon be tearing apart our U.S. Constitution in order to force same-sex marriage down the throats of the people of Hawaii and America,” Gabbard said. “The only way to protect traditional marriage in Hawaii and throughout our country, the only way to stop activist federal judges from rewriting our constitution, is by the passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment.”

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The Alliance for Traditional Marriage and Values also drew controversy for supporting so-called conversion gay therapy, which views homosexuality as a mental illness. More than a dozen states in the country have since outlawed or restricted the controversial practice.

At the time, Gabbard also gave a lengthy speech at the Hawaii State House against a proposed resolution that addressed the bullying of gay students in public schools. Gabbard argued the resolution would cast homosexuality as normal, and that it would attract “homosexual-advocacy organizations into our schools to promote their agenda to our vulnerable youth.”

Gabbard has in recent years said she has evolved in her views about gay rights, and has actively helped further LGBTQ interests in Congress. She was quoted in several media outlets as saying in a statement on Sunday, after her old remarks and actions came under fire, that she was sorry about her past views and comments.

“Over the past six years in Congress, I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to help work toward passing legislation that ensures equal rights and protections on LGBTQ+ issues,” Gabbard said. “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.”

Rarely have we seen someone who was so actively and vehemently and viscerally against LGBTQ equality and acceptance. [Gabbard] was someone who worked so actively against our community when the stakes were so high.

— Zeke Stokes, the vice president of programs at GLAAD

On social media, critics for the most part were not forgiving.

Some said they had been aware of talk about Gabbard’s controversial remarks about gays, but were surprised to hear about the depth of her anti-LGBTQ views.

Others said they wanted to hear more from the congresswoman about why she held the views and, in particularly, why she went out of her way to fight against issues of importance to the LGBTQ community.

“We’ve seen [people] who may held a particular view and evolved to a place of acceptance,, but rarely have we seen someone who was so actively and vehemently and viscerally against LGBTQ equality and acceptance,” said Zeke Stokes, the vice president of programs at GLAAD, one of the most prominent LGBTQ advocacy groups, in an interview with Fox News. “[Gabbard] was someone who worked so actively against our community when the stakes were so high.”

“One thing is to say that marriage should be between a man and a woman, but another is to actively work to stymie the progress of a community that is marginalized, and to oppose an effort to keep kids safe.”

Stokes said her anti-LGBTQ remarks likely will haunt her throughout her campaign, and that it behooves the congresswoman to confront it head-on and address skeptics by explaining how her evolution unfolded.

“What changed for her, to go from such an aggressive anti-LGBTQ stance" to one of being an ally, Stokes said. "That can set a good example for others who may be struggling to get to that acceptance. It can be educational for other Americans."