WASHINGTON, D.C. — Since declaring her intent to run for the presidency in 2020 earlier this month on CNN’s The Van Jones Show, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, the first Hindu American elected to the U.S. Congress, has been ravaged on social media, including by Generation X and millennial Indian American Democratic progressives, particularly for her decades-old homophobia and anti-LGBTQ bias.
On Jan. 17, even before formally making an announcement of her candidacy, Gabbard, 37, now serving her fourth-term, in a major mea culpa, both in a series of tweets as well as through a four-and-a-half You Tube video, profusely apologized for her past offensive and hurtful statements and implored people to judge her by her progressive record since being elected to Congress six years ago.
In her video message, she acknowledged,“In my past I said and believed things that were wrong, and worse, hurtful to people in the LGBTQ community and their loved ones.”
Gabbard said, “Many years ago, I apologized for my words and, more importantly, for the negative impact that they had. I sincerely repeat my apology today. I’m deeply sorry for having said them. My views have changed significantly since then, and my record in Congress over the last 6 years reflects what is in my heart: A strong and ongoing commitment to fighting for LGBTQ rights.”
Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, who now serves on the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees, and is also the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, recalled, “I grew up knowing that every person is a child of God, and equally loved by God. I have always believed in the fundamental rights and equality of all people. But I also grew up in a socially conservative household, where I was raised to believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. For a period of my life I didn’t see the contradiction in those beliefs.”
“While many Americans may be able to relate to growing up in a conservative home, my story is a little different because my father was very outspoken,” she said. “He was an activist who was fighting against gay rights and marriage equality in Hawaii – and at that time, I forcefully defended him and his cause.”
But, she said, “Over the years as I grew up, I formed my own opinions based on my life experience that significantly changed my views — at a very personal level in truly having aloha, love, for all people, and making sure that every American, regardless of sexual orientation, is treated equally under the law.”
Gabbard said, “I look forward to being able to share more of my story and experiences growing up – not as an excuse – but in the hopes that it may inspire others to truly live aloha; to love and care for others.”
Her apology obviously resonated with Democratic colleague, U.S. Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, the first and only openly gay member of Congress, who represents New York’s 18th District, who released a statement speaking to Gabbard’s progressive record on LGBTQ rights.
Maloney said, “I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of anti-LGBTQ discrimination directed against me, my family and our community. Those who have worked actively against equality carry that stain and must be held accountable.”
“But I also understand how important it is that we encourage people to admit their error, grow and evolve, as much of the country has done over the last two decades. That is exactly what Tulsi Gabbard has done. She recognized the fault in her past views and the pain she was causing, and she has apologized. She admitted her error and has become a strong ally and close friend in Congress.”
Before she was elected to the U.S. Congress, Gabbard had endorsed a constitutional amendment her father, then Senator Mike Gabbard, had propounded in the early 2000’s to protect traditional marriage.
After she disclosed to Van Jones that she had decided to run for the presidency, longtime Democratic and civil rights activist Subodh Chandra posted a New Yorker article titled, ‘What does Tulsi Gabbard believe? The Making of a Charismatic, Unorthodox Democrat,” and said that “the anti-LGBT stuff is very disturbing,” and that (former KKK Grand Wizard)“David Duke praises her. Why?”
When some others posted in her defense, arguing that she was raised in a religious family that valued strict adherence to principle, and that the New Yorker article further explained that when Gabbard served in Iraq, “she experienced a culture that strictly imposed majority culture on others,” Chandra pooh-poohed this contention.
“Sorry, I’m not buying it,” he posted, arguing, “The hate was intense and activist. She was young and remains so. This wasn’t that long ago.”
Chandra also bemoaned “her hard-right anti-Muslim zealotry and association with murderous Hindu extremists who have blood on their hands is disturbing,” and challenged Gabbard’s defenders to “research it.”
“And I’m a Hindu. Something is way off…” he said, and added, “I was proud of her status as the first Hindu U.S. Rep. But no more after seeing her associations and statements.”
Chandra also predicted, “She will never be president. “But she will cause trouble. And the Russians will help her do just that.”
When others defended her controversial meeting with Syrian leader Bashir el-Assad, Vishal Agraharkar argued, “No one is against her simply communicating with people whom she disapproves.”
“The issue is that she apparently doesn’t disapprove of Assad or (Indian Prime Minister) Modi; instead, she seems to readily defend them against their critics.”
Chandra also said, “It’s her EXPRESSED VIEWS,” and noted, “Progressice Hindu Indian-Americans have been paying close attention because her conduct took her from being viewed as a groundbreaker to being a fundamentalist/nationalist, anti-Muslim bigot.”
“The info is out there—not just well covered in regular U.S. press,” he said.
Chandra also said, “No, I don’t question the sincerity of her faith. I am concerned about her extremist, ‘fundamentalist,’ anti-Muslim expressions and affiliations.”
Agraharkar acknowledged, “She is charismatic, no doubt, and I hope she raises the salience of environmental issues within the party. No chance that she will get enough support to actually be competitive in the primary, given her support of Assad, anti-LGBT past, and her cozying up to Hindu nationalists. But I have a nagging worry she will pull a Jill Stein and actually sabotage the Dems.”
But David Scott, posted, “Years ago, before her Assad comments and while I was Sierra Club President, Gabbard generously joined me and packed a room for an environmental PAC fundraiser. I will always appreciate that.”
“But some of her statements marginalize her and can’t imagine why she is running for a nomination she had no chance whatsoever of winning,” Scott added.
Another progressive Indian American activist, Shikha Bhatnagar, who head the Los Angeles-based South Asian Network (SAN), immediately Gabbard signaled her intention to make a presidential bid, posted on Facebook, “Ugh. What a joke.”
She also took a swipe at the older Indian American generation, saying, “You know, who else will be cheering this on? Lots of Indian uncles.”
Bhatnagar also posted, “Wondering when the Indian American community will get the memo that Tulsi Gabbard is not Indian…”
She also said that Gabbard “was one of the Democrats who voted to ban Syrian refugees from coming to the U.S. in 2015. I have a long memory and I will not be gracious.”
In another post, Bhatnagar said, “Also, I am not talking about random uncles and aunties embracing her as Indian—these are people in Washington, D.C. and political circles who basically consider her Indian just b/c she was raised as a Hindi. That’s ridiculous.”