LOS ANGELES — During a nationally televised forum on Thursday focusing on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, several Democratic presidential candidates were interrupted by transgender activists who repeatedly called for more focus on the murders of African-American transgender women and said that the forum had not done enough to include their voices.
Ultimately, one woman took the microphone from an audience member while former Representative Beto O’Rourke was onstage.
“Black trans women are dying,” said the woman, who gave her name as Blossom C. Brown. “Our lives matter. I am an extraordinary black trans woman, and I deserve to be here.”
The protesters first surfaced when Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., took the stage during the forum, which was sponsored by CNN and the Human Rights Campaign. Protesters greeted him waving large signs as they shouted for greater awareness of violence against transgender women of color.
After they had quieted down, Mr. Buttigieg turned to them, saying, “I do want to acknowledge what these demonstrators were speaking about, which is the epidemic of violence against black trans women in this country right now.” He continued, “And I believe or would like to believe that everybody here is committed to ending that epidemic, and that does include lifting up its visibility and speaking to it.”
Another member of the audience interrupted Senator Kamala Harris of California, and while shouting, asked, “How do we get those men to stop killing of trans women of color? We are hunted.”
“I know,” Ms. Harris said, addressing the questioner, “I know.”
Each of the candidates seemed to welcome the protesters, as did the CNN moderators, who praised them. Don Lemon returned a microphone to Ms. Brown saying, “The reason we are here is to validate women like you.”
The forum featured nine Democratic presidential candidates. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was the only top tier candidate who missed the event, having declined the invitation after suffering a heart attack last week, though he addressed the group by video before the forum began.
Their attendance was a clear sign of how gay rights have become an essential part of the party’s platform. Several candidates said they would withhold aid from countries that condone discrimination against the L.G.B.T.Q. community and several said they would consider withholding money from nonprofit groups and schools that do not recognize same-sex couples.
The CNN Equality Town Hall featured questions from the audience, many of whom were activists and health and social work professionals who work in the gay community. The questions included topics such as family leave for gay couples, violence against transgender people and the conflicts between religious freedom and L.G.B.T.Q. rights.
Mr. Buttigieg, the first openly gay presidential candidate, released an 18-page plan hours before the forum, saying he would rescind the policy that blocks military veterans from receiving insurance coverage for gender reassignment surgery, and add non-binary gender options on federal documents, including passports.
Onstage, Mr. Buttigieg spoke in personal terms in several of his answers.
“There is no right or wrong way to be gay, to be queer, to be trans,” he said. “I hope that our own community, even as we struggle to define what our identity means, defines it in way that lets everybody know that they belong among us.”
Mr. Buttigieg also talked about his own process of coming out.
“What it was like was a civil war, because I knew I was different long before I knew I was gay,” he said, and pointed to the stigmas he still faces, such as the prohibition against blood donations for men who have sex with men. “I can’t lead by example on this one, because my blood is not welcome in this country.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also released plans on Thursday, saying that she would restore many Obama-era policies that the Trump administration has eliminated and crack down on “overly broad religious exemptions to nondiscrimination.” Ms. Warren said she would ban so-called conversion therapy.
Asked during the town hall about a previous statement she had made during her 2012 campaign for senate, in which she said that transition-related surgery for a transgender inmate was not a good use of tax payer dollars, Ms. Warren said she regretted the answer and now believes it should be supported.
“It was a bad answer,” she said. “I believe that everyone is entitled to medical care and medical care that they need and that includes people who are transgender” who seek “gender-affirming surgery.”
There were several moments of levity during the forum. One audience member asked Ms. Warren how she might respond to someone on the campaign trail say to her, “My faith teaches me that marriage is between one man and one woman.”
She responded without missing a beat, “Well, I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that,” Ms. Warren said flatly, “And I’m going to say, ‘Then just marry one woman. I’m cool with that.’”
She paused for a moment and then added: “If you can find one.”
The candidates’ proposals and comments make clear that they largely agree with one another on L.G.B.T.Q. issues and are making considerable efforts to court voters from the community. And the plans also show just how far the party has moved in the last decade.
When Mr. Obama ran for president in 2008, he said he was opposed to same-sex marriage. That same year, California voters approved Proposition 8, a ballot measure that made same-sex marriage unconstitutional in the state. In 2012, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay marriage, a stance Mr. Obama did not adopt until later that year.
“When I came out,” Mr. Biden began to say on Thursday at the town hall, referencing that decision. “Er, when I publicly stated,” he said, to roars of laughter from the audience. Mr. Biden then went on to talk about how dramatically attitudes toward the L.G.B.T.Q. community had changed. “The idea is normal,” he said. “It’s normalized, it’s not anything strange.”