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“It’s incredibly encouraging that not only are we asked to join in the conversation, we are actually playing a large role in the shaping of the future,” said Mr. Handwerks, adding that during the Bush administration, homosexuals have been “on the attack end” even though they are the “second most loyal voting bloc” for Democrats.

Moderator Margaret Carlson said homosexuals “were once invisible both in our communities and on the political landscape” but are now “visible and valued” and “a force at the ballot box.”

Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut did not participate due to scheduling conflicts.

Mr. Dodd said in a statement he was sorry he could not attend and called homosexuals “a very important voice in our national discourse.”

“Addressing equal rights and responsibilities for the GLBT community is fundamental to fulfilling America’s promise,” he said.

The HRC invited the Republican candidates, but none accepted.

Audience members said on Logo after the forum they rated Mrs. Clinton highest, followed by Mr. Obama. They were overall irritated with Mr. Richardson’s performance and one man said Mr. Edwards seemed disingenuous.