South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg made history on Sunday, April 14, when he became the first openly LGBTQ presidential candidate in the United States. “It's time to walk away from the politics of the past, and toward something totally different,” he said in his campaign announcement, before kissing his husband, teacher Chasten Buttigieg. Mayor Pete is currently polling third among Democratic voters, behind Joe Biden (who hasn't officially announced he's running but is expected to later this month) and Bernie Sanders. Hours after the campaign announcement, Buttigieg's communications adviser tweeted that he had raised more than $1 million from supporters.
While it's encouraging that Buttigieg is poling so high among Democrats, the country as a whole may not be ready for a gay president. We have 10 openly gay Congressmembers currently (all Dems), but leader of the country is an entirely more significant thing. Still, Buttigieg's candidacy is meaningful, at least in terms of optics and normalization for LGBTQ politicians now and in the future. His speech included topics such as fighting climate change, wage inequality between younger and older generations, and racial divisions. “I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern millennial mayor. More than a little bold, at age 37, to seek the highest office in the land,” Buttigieg told a crowd of over 10,000. “But we live in a moment that compels us each to act. The horror show in Washington is mesmerizing, all-consuming. But starting today, we are going to change the channel.”
After an unsuccessful campaign for Indiana State Treasurer in 2010, Buttigieg was elected mayor of South Bend the following year and re-elected in 2015. After Trump's inauguration, he raised his national profile when he ran to chair the Democratic National Committee (he lost). He was commissioned as a naval intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve in 2009 and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2014. He remained a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve until 2017. His military service occurred when Don't Ask Don't Tell was in effect as well as when it was abolished in 2011. He came out publicly in a June 2015 essay for the South Bend Tribune, just days before the Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality was announced.
Recently, Buttigieg made headlines by publicly sparring with the former governor of his home state, the notoriously anti-LGBTQ Mike Pence. Buttigieg said at a recent LGBTQ event, “I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand that if you've got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.” Pence responded by telling CNN's Dana Bash that he and Buttigieg “worked very closely together when I was [Indiana's] governor, and I considered him a friend. And he knows I don't have a problem with him.”
When Pence was pressed harder and was asked if he agreed with Buttigieg's assertion that God made him gay, Pence said, “All of us have our own religious convictions. Pete has his convictions, I have mine. I hope that Pete will offer more to the American people than attacks on my Christian faith or attacks on the president as he seeks the highest office in the land. He'd do well to reflect on the importance of respecting the freedom of religion of every American.”
But it's Pence who is attacking Buttigieg's right to interpret what his religion tells him and to say it out loud. Buttigieg is in no way attacking Pence or his faith but merely stating that he believes that his creator made him gay. Pence seems to misunderstand how religious freedom works.
I don't know if Buttigieg is the candidate I want to support yet, but having the first openly gay presidential hopeful ever is definite progress that should be celebrated. And whether or not he ends up getting the Democratic nomination, the fact that he is using his platform to unabashedly speak out against bigots like Mike Pence (and Trump) will set a great example for the LGBTQ community and our country.