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Dems debate gay issues on Logo

Etheridge poses questions to Clinton, Obama

The top Democratic presidential contenders will take part in an Aug. 9 debate on gay issues, in what is being billed as a first-of-its-kind event, with Viacom’s Logo cable net to air it.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Christopher Dodd have agreed to participate in the forum, with questions to be posed by a panel that includes singer Melissa Etheridge and Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Logo are sponsoring the debate, to be held in Studio City.

Event is a coup for Logo, the cable channel aimed at the gay, lesbian and transgender community that was launched in 2005. Debate will be the network’s first live event.

The fact that all of the top-tier candidates agreed to the debate is perhaps a testament to the importance of the gay vote, which organizers say makes up about 4% of the voting population. Logo has about 27 million subscribers and a much smaller audience than Fox News. Many Democratic candidates have shunned Fox News’ plans to co-sponsor debates, citing what they call the network’s conservative bias in its programming.

HRC spokesman Brad Luna said there will be no forum of Republican presidential candidates, even though the Human Rights Campaign did extend invites. Among HRC’s criteria for holding the debate was that it would have to secure at least two top-tier contenders to participate. Mitt Romney’s campaign said no, and HRC never got a response from the campaigns of John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, Luna said.

It’s unclear who else in the Democratic field will show for the Aug. 9 event. A spokeswoman for Chris Dodd’s campaign said that he will attend. The campaign of Joseph Biden has declined, citing prior scheduling commitments, and HRC has yet to hear from Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich, Luna said. Another contender, Mike Gravel, was not invited because he did not meet organizers’ viability threshold of being a candidate who raised at least $100,000 in the first quarter, Luna said.

As at the Howard U. forum last month aimed at minority issues, it will be interesting where the candidates disagree, if at all. In a recent Human Rights Campaign survey of the candidates on an array of issues, the entire field was in agreement on such issues as the need to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” passage of a hate crimes bill and support for civil unions. But only Kucinich and Gravel supported same-sex marriage.

“In the 2008 presidential election, issues of concern to the LGBT community have already been at the forefront of the national conversation,” Solmonese said in a statement. “From the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to the recent signing of a civil unions bill in New Hampshire, there is no doubt that voters will demand answers to important questions affecting our community.”

HRC hosted a forum of Democratic presidential candidates in July 2003, but the event was not televised. This forum will be held at HD Vision Studios in Studio City and also will be streamed at Logoonline.com.

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