Nine U.S. Democratic presidential hopefuls to tackle LGBTQ issues at televised forum

Oct 10 (Reuters) - Nine U.S. Democratic presidential candidates will appear at a televised town hall on Thursday focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, though top contender Bernie Sanders will miss the event as he recovers from a heart attack.

The Los Angeles event is the second major presidential forum dedicated to LGBTQ issues during the Democratic nominating campaign, following an event in Iowa last month that drew 10 of the 19 candidates vying to take on U.S. President Donald Trump.

Gay advocates have expressed dismay at the Trump administration’s record on LGBTQ issues, including a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. military.

Earlier this week, lawyers for the Department of Justice argued at the U.S. Supreme Court that federal civil rights law does not prohibit employers from firing workers based on their transgender identity or sexual orientation.

The forum will include South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay U.S. president; former Vice President Joe Biden; U.S. senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar; former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke; former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro; and businessman Tom Steyer.

Ahead of the forum, Warren - who has been rising in public opinion polls - released a plan to secure equality for LGBTQ people.

Like a number of other Democrats, Warren supports the Equality Act, which would explicitly add LGBTQ protections to federal anti-discrimination law. She vowed to have the federal government begin manufacturing pre-exposure prophylaxis, a drug that helps lower the risk of contracting human immunodeficiency virus, to bring down the cost.

Warren said she would create a new grant program for transgender advocacy organizations, noting that at least 19 transgender people - almost all black transgender women - have been killed this year. She also said she would appoint a special LGBTQ human rights envoy in the U.S. State Department.

Thursday’s forum represents a fresh opportunity on the issue for Biden, who has seen his lead in polls wiped out by Warren’s recent surge. At last month’s event in Iowa, Biden found himself defending his LGBTQ record, including his 1993 vote for the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that barred openly gay individuals from the military.

Biden later backed repeal of that policy, and while he voted for a law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, he backed same-sex marriage before President Barack Obama, under whom he served. (Reporting by Joseph Ax Editing by Tom Brown)