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Pete Buttigieg on running as a gay man and his struggles with Black voters

LZ Granderson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Pride 2020 is officially in the books and man, it was complicated: The COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to cancel parades; the horrific deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery sparked monthlong Black Lives Matter protests, many joined by the LGBTQ community in a show of solidarity; marriage equality turned 5; and the Supreme Court ruled it was illegal to fire someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Then there's Pete Buttigieg.

The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., joined the ranks of groundbreaking LGBTQ politicos such as Harvey Milk, Barbara Jordan and Barney Frank when he announced his candidacy for president in April 2019. His victory in the Iowa Democratic Caucus -- in which he won 61 of 99 counties and most rural areas -- signaled a watershed moment different from the others. LGBTQ youths might no longer be forced to choose between leaving their conservative small towns or spending their lives in the closet. Buttigieg's performances in Iowa as well as New Hampshire, where he tied with Bernie Sanders for pledged delegates, were markers Pride was made to celebrate.

On Tuesday, the last day of Pride, I spoke with Buttigieg about his historic campaign, his struggles to reach Black voters and whether or not he's going to run again.

Q: Do you ever get tired of hearing you made history?

Buttigieg: No. I'm so humbled to have been able to play that role. Look, I'm very much standing on the shoulders of giants and the best thing I can say about having had that historic campaign is that it will hopefully make it a little bit easier for other people who come along in the future. There is such a long chain of events from back through the origins of Pride some 50 years ago and on into the future of LGBTQ equality that is still a long way from being complete or secure. It wasn't the main reason I ran for president, I wanted to be a president for everybody but over time came to really embrace and be honored by the chance to play that role.


Q: What do you think years from now the rural community is going to think about your candidacy? We already know what the urban Americans are going to think -- you'll be celebrated -- but what about rural America?

A: One of the things about the LGBTQ community is that we're everywhere. I can't think of any other minority, other than the community of Americans with disabilities, who have this range across every racial and geographic group. There is a queer experience in rural America that is definitely different than that of our larger cities, but it's very real. I really prided myself on the way our campaign really succeeded, especially in some of those counties in Iowa that helped deliver our caucus win. The very places that famously voted for Barack Obama and then Donald Trump. Being able to reach out to people, neither downplaying nor being completely identified by identity. I hope it will make it easier for those people in those communities to live full lives as themselves.

Q: Were you surprised at all that despite being openly gay and proud that you weren't embraced by the more liberal arm of the LGBTQ community?

A: Our community sometimes polices its own boundaries. I quickly realized that if I tried to sort myself into other people's views of what a gay person ought to look like and try not to be not gay enough or too gay, I would be defeating the whole purpose of coming out, which is just to be who you are. If you have a different view on a policy issue and you're also queer, it's not like you have to vote for somebody who is part of the LGBTQ community so I respect that in a lot of ways. The only thing I took issue with was this idea that there's one way that's better than some other way to be out or to be queer. The whole idea of pride is the power of being your authentic self.


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