Gabbard: Deploying to Middle East changed her views on LGBT rights

Presidential hopeful Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard sought to explain her shift away from advocating anti-gay policies in the early 2000s on Sunday, saying her time in the military caused her to “go through some soul-searching.”

“I was raised in a very socially conservative home. My father is Catholic, he was a leading voice against gay marriage in Hawaii at that time. Again, I was very young, but these are the values and beliefs that I grew up around,” Gabbard told CNN’s Dana Bash at a town hall in Texas.

CNN’s KFile previously reported that in the early 2000s, Gabbard touted working for her father’s anti-gay organization, which advocated for controversial conversion therapy and mobilized to pass a measure against same-sex marriage in Hawaii. Gabbard has since apologized and said she regrets her past positions.

Gabbard is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for President in 2020, and her past views and activism in opposition to LGBT rights have come under more intense scrutiny since her presidential announcement.

Gabbard said on Sunday she “personally never supported any kind of conversion therapy. I never advocated for conversion therapy. And frankly, I didn’t even know what conversion therapy was until just the last few years.”

Gabbard said her views shifted when she deployed to the Middle East, “where I saw first-hand the negative impact of a government attempting to act as a moral arbiter for their people, dictating in the most personal ways how they must live their lives.”

“I also served with gay and lesbian and trans service members, and we became very good friends, and knew in the most deep and visceral way that I would give my life for any one of them. And I knew that they would do the same for me,” Gabbard said.

Gabbard said, “race or religion or orientation — these were things that didn’t matter, because we were focused on our mission of serving.”

She also touted her record in Congress, where she has supported efforts to promote LGBT equality.