Democrat candidate Pete Buttigrieg isn't at the top of the polls and hasn't raised the most money, but to many in the LGBT community he has caught people's attention. Why? In part, because many of us never thought a gay man could be viewed by so many as a plausible candidate for the highest office in the land. Polls have shown that 68% of Americans - true some may be lying - say that Buttigrieg's sexual orientation is not a problem to them. Growing up gay can be traumatic, not because there is anything inherently wrong with being gay, but because the bigotry and cruelty that has been heaped on gays for so long by society. Indeed, the Christofascists and the Trump/Pence regime continue to wage a war against LGBT equality. Two recent pieces look at Buttigrieg's candidacy, one in The Atlantic and the other by Andrew Sullivan in New York Magazine. The first examines why Buttigrieg's gayness matters and the latter ponders whether Buttigrieg could prove to be a transformation candidate. Here are excerpts from The Atlantic:
In my lifetime, it has been illegal for me to serve in the military, illegal for me to marry, illegal for me to adopt children, and even illegal for me to have sex. Society barred me from the first three; until 2003, the fourth meant risk of a fine or a prison sentence in some states. This discrimination did not just happen in a history book—it happened to me, and it happened to Buttigieg, too.
I am two years older than Buttigieg. We could have grown up with the same cartoons, listened to the same music, felt the same fear when we heard that Matthew Shepard had been murdered. We’ve lived through discrimination, and the fact that laws have changed doesn’t alleviate the trauma of our past. Ask our gay elders whether they’ve recovered from losing their friends and colleagues who died by the tens of thousands during the AIDS crisis. That pain is fresh.
During an interview with an LGBTQ magazine, Buttigieg described himself as “somebody whose marriage exists as a function of a single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court.” Our position in society is hardly secure. The fight for equality isn’t won. It still matters that I am gay, so it matters to me that Buttigieg is gay.
In many states, it remains legal to fire gay people for being gay. And if you’re tired of hearing about that fact, imagine how tired I am of living it. There is no public-accommodations law at the federal level that stops landlords from refusing to rent me an apartment if I show up for the home tour while holding my husband’s hand.
Buttigieg was mayor of South Bend when the Indiana governor signed a law in 2015 allowing businesses to turn away gay customers. That law didn’t stick, but the governor is now our vice president, Mike Pence. He stuck. Forgive me if I like the idea of having someone in the White House who understands what I’ve been through, and who would protect me from the people who would turn me away.
For the first time in my life, I’m now represented in government by another gay man, Brian Sims, the outspoken Pennsylvania lawmaker who went viral for flipping off Mike Pence. (He represents my corner of Philadelphia in Harrisburg.)
Sims told me that being gay put Buttigieg in “learning situations” that give the candidate “heightened insight into issues far beyond human sexuality.” Sims believes that a “multidimensional identity can help educate, enlighten, and ultimately solve many of our most pressing cultural problems.”
Identity matters. Like most Democrats, I have not yet decided who to vote for in a primary that is still months away. But I believe it matters that Cory Booker is a black man, that Kamala Harris is the daughter of an Indian mom and a Jamaican dad, and that Buttigieg is gay. These facets of their identities mean that they can understand the powerless, as victims of power, and that they can understand the alienated, having been marginalized.
Beyond questions of empathy, Buttigieg being out is germane because he’s a role model to those who want to come out.
Gay men are largely missing from positions of power. An out gay man has never served on the U.S Supreme Court. Not a single out gay man served on the federal bench until President Barack Obama took office. There is not and has never been an out gay man in the U.S. Senate. Buttigieg came out in 2015 on his own terms, but that counts as progress only in an unfair system.
“When you are a member of a marginalized or often invisible community, there is something especially powerful about seeing someone like you that isn’t actually you,” said Erin Uritus, the head of Out & Equal, a group for LGBTQ business people, when I asked her about Buttigieg. “When LGBTQ young people wonder what is in store for their future and they can look to Tim Cook or Rachel Maddow or Pete Buttigieg, their entire world opens up.”
The movement for equal rights has made tremendous strides. But we are not immune from persecution, especially not young people. Researchers at the Williams Institute estimate that 4.5 percent of the American population is LGBTQ. They also estimate that 40 percent of youth in homeless shelters are LGBTQ.
You can be sure that LGBTQ people are paying attention to how society treats Buttigieg as a candidate. The questions on their mind: Is it safe out there? Is this really possible?
“For young members of the LGBTQ community, many of whom may be suffering discrimination or bullying or even being ostracized from their own family, seeing a member of our community run for president helps them know it’s going to be okay.”
Sullivan's piece looks at a wider perspective. He questions Buttigrieg's relative youth - forgetting that many of the Founding Fathers were even younger at the time of the American Revolution - and inexperience, forgetting that Trump had/has even less experience. Here are highlights:
One of the reasons I thought Donald Trump would win in 2016 was not just that he was focusing on the core issues roiling the middle classes (immigration and globalization). It was because he had the perfect foil for his persona in Hillary Clinton. Trump was fresh to politics, anti-Establishment, an outsider, populist, alpha male, and nationalist, with a base primed to despise Clinton. Clinton had been in power forever, was pure Establishment, a total insider, globalist, alpha female, predictable, with a base stunned by Trump. It was the kind of contrast Trump longed for, and it was a central element in his success. And these matchups matter. Trump is widely unpopular by himself. He will need a good foil to win in a binary race.
So, leaving policy aside for a second, who would be the best Democratic foil from the anti-Trump perspective? By which I mean, which set of qualities is most likely to contrast with Trump in a way that makes the Democratic contender seem fresh, and the president appear old, clueless, and malevolent? I suspect it is this question that is behind the budding candidacy of one Pete Buttigieg. When you think of him in a debate with Trump, one-on-one, everything gets scrambled. I don’t know what that dynamic would be like exactly, but it feels a lot less predictable than, say, Elizabeth Warren or Beto O’Rourke.
Trump would be the oldest president in history at 74; Buttigieg would be the youngest at 39. Trump landed in politics via his money and celebrity after years in the limelight; Buttigieg is the mayor of a midsize midwestern town, unknown until a few weeks ago. Trump is a pathological, malevolent narcissist from New York, breaking all sorts of norms. Buttigieg is a modest, reasonable pragmatist, and a near parody of normality. Trump thrives on a retro heterosexual persona; Buttigieg appears to be a rather conservative, married homosexual. Trump is a coward and draft dodger; Buttigieg served his country. Trump does not read; Buttigieg does. Trump’s genius is demonic demagoguery. Buttigieg’s gig is careful reasoning. Trump is a pagan; Buttigieg is a Christian. Trump vandalizes government; Buttigieg nurtures it.
To put it simply, Mayor Pete seems almost designed to expose everything that makes the country tired of Trump. . . . . David Brooks rightly notes Buttigieg’s Obama-like combination of somewhat banal leftism with personal rectitude and calm. After the fever of the culture wars of the high-temperature Trump era, this might come across as a welcome balm. Voters tend to go for a contrast with the current president, a correction of sorts. . . . Buttigieg is a near-perfect way to put a drop shadow behind all of Trump’s grandiosity, age, temperament, and privilege.
More importantly, he would mitigate our current polarizing patterns. He’s not sanctimoniously woke, but woke enough to have the “social justice” left potentially buy in (if its members can get over their fear of white cis gay men as oppressors). He’s a left-liberal, but relatively unformed on policy, and has carved out a moderate place in a field careening leftward. Even his most daring ideas — expanding the Supreme Court to 15 — are designed to reduce polarization.
There’s something both very new and yet very traditional about the mayor — and that’s appealing to moderate conservatives.
Too gay? They said Barack Obama was too black. Bad name? Sure, but again: Barack Hussein Obama. (My gay hack for pronouncing his name is to think of him as a “booty judge.”) Too young? That’s possible. He’d be approaching 40 at his inauguration, but his affect is younger. There remains something boyish about him, which is something Trump would immediately fasten onto as rendering him a lightweight. But Buttigieg can rebut that in a simple and powerful way: He can say he was man enough to serve his country in uniform, which should be man enough for any president. (The contrast with the aged, spoiled draft-dodger brat could be deadly.)
But it’s also important to say that 39 is not that young for high office. Emmanuel Macron was the same age when he became president of France. Jacinda Ardern became prime minister of New Zealand at the age of 37. Sebastian Kurz became chancellor of Austria at the age of 31. Leo Varadkar became prime minister of Ireland at the age of 38, and came out as gay (like Buttigieg) in his 30s.
In an age when nothing seems to be able to get done nationally, a serious pragmatist with an actual record of governing has an opening. And he has a good line when confronted with lack of experience: He will have had more experience actually governing than Trump.
He has some obvious vulnerabilities. The Democrats have to rally the black vote to counteract Trump’s rural strength. Mayor Pete hasn’t proved he can do that, even though his city is over 26 percent African-American.
Buttigieg’s immigration policies are very vague — he favors a “path to citizenship.” My own view is that the only Democrat who will beat Trump next year will campaign for control of immigration, legal and undocumented, in a sane and humane way. . . . We could, in other words, be in the mother of all immigration scares as the first primaries take place. We could have a million more migrants to grapple with. Currently, no Democrat has any response to this. . . . . If Buttigieg counters with a campaign for a path to citizenship for most here, but also in favor of mandatory e-verify (a completely humane way to enforce immigration law in the interior of the country via employment), he’d break out of the pack. Just actively treating the fears about immigration as legitimate — and seeking to assuage them — would mark him as a different kind of Democrat.
And, of course, Buttigieg’s emergence has a personal salience for me. He is, quite simply, what many of us in my generation of gays fought for and rarely believed could happen: He is proud to be gay but not defined by it, happily married, a veteran, wickedly smart, and completely integrated. When I read some LGBTQ activists push back on him for not being gay or “intersectional” enough, it depresses me beyond measure. His candidacy is as historic as Obama’s. His potential presidency even more so. That so many see him as a credible, formidable candidate is a reminder that in America, we can still unite in a more humane consensus. Trump has eclipsed that possibility in a welter of poison. Buttigieg quite simply rescues it again.