Former Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday defended his opposition to surgical and chemical gender transition procedures and transgender-affirming policies being taught in schools during an emotional exchange with an audience member at a town hall in Iowa.
During a NewsNation town hall, a prospective Iowa caucus-goer named Melissa told Pence they were a member of the LGBTQ community and have transgender individuals in their family. Melissa cited the wave of anti-LGBTQ bills being passed at the state level and asked Pence through tears what he would do to protect the transgender community from “historically high levels of violence.”
Pence said he was “moved” by the questioner’s emotion, and he vowed to protect the rights of every American if elected.
“I hope you also will hear my heart on this. For me, what adults do in their lives, decisions that they make, including transgender adults, is one thing. But for kids under the age of 18, there’s a reason why we don’t let you drive until you’re 16,” Pence said.
“And so I hope you hear in my strong sentiment on this the gender ideology that’s being taught and has been taught in elementary schools and promoted among many of our kids, and when it comes to surgical or chemical procedures, I really believe we’ve got to protect our kids from decisions that will affect them for the balance of their lives,” he continued.
Melissa responded that they are a social worker and have worked with kids in their profession for years. Melissa said they started an organization for LGBTQ youth in their hometown.
“I have worked with kids as young as five years old that have gender non-conforming and identities that are transgender, and I’ve raised one,” they said. “And so to hear somebody tell me that it’s not OK for young children to make decisions about their gender identity and to ask their school officials for support, protection and help, is appalling.”
Pence and other Republican presidential candidates have been outspoken in on the campaign trail in saying they would roll back certain federal support for transgender youth in schools, and they have opposed allowing transgender athletes to participate in sports with the gender with which they identify.
Pence’s campaign has said if elected, he would have the Education Department issue guidance opposing “transgender curricula and begin the process of blocking federal funding for districts that promote transgender education in elementary school.”
Several GOP-led state legislatures have recently passed legislation to ban gender-affirming care and roll back support for transgender youth.
A Quinnipiac University national poll released Wednesday found Pence polling in fourth in the GOP primary, behind former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
The audience at Wednesday’s town hall consisted of undecided, independent, and Republican voters in Iowa.
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