Being clear-eyed about Mayor Pete

Op-Ed: Election 2020

We need to talk about the mayor. No, I don’t mean Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City. Or the obscurely known Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar, Florida. I’m referring to openly gay Mayor Pete Buttegieg of South Bend, Ind.

Despite his recent slip in the polls, he has still managed to firmly ensconce himself in the top-tier of 2020 Democratic candidates. Because of his status in the race, it’s time that we, the LGBTQ community, start seriously considering whether or not we want to throw our weight behind the first openly LGBTQ candidate that has made a viable bid for the White House. And no, Fred Karger doesn’t count.

There are a lot of considerations. Sure, he’s a perfectly brilliant politician. I have no doubt that his heart is in the right place, but that doesn’t mean that we should support him just because we’re starved for elected leaders who reflect our sexual and gender diversity. We need to be just as strategic about backing candidates as the religious right has been.

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The African-American community went through a similar inflection point during the 2008 campaign. Originally, African-Americans largely supported Hillary Clinton because she was viewed as being more electable. Support started to shift once it became apparent that now former President Barack Obama had staying power.

Whether he wants to or not, Buttegieg represents the LGBTQ community. A large portion of Americans still don’t personally know anyone who isn’t heterosexual or cisgender. For that reason, we should consider whether we want Buttegieg to represent us. Based on his record, I have to say that he’s given us a lot to be proud of. His speech about the internal struggle that he went through on his path to self-acceptance at the LGBTQ Victory Fund back in June was especially poignant. Even the most vehement of homophobes would be hard pressed to deny just how moving the speech was.

Despite Buttegieg’s LGBTQ bona fides, other candidates can boast that they have equally impressive track records when it comes to the issues that impact us. Sen. Bernie Sanders has supported the LGBTQ community longer than Buttegieg has been in politics. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris have both been strong allies throughout their somewhat shorter political careers. But perhaps most importantly, former Vice President Joe Biden came out in support of same-sex marriage in 2012, while Buttegieg was still closeted and was even credited with persuading Obama to do the same.

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Don’t get me wrong, I would love nothing more than to say that our country is being led by an openly gay man. However, the potential joy of being able to make such a statement shouldn’t guide our thinking. First of all, we need a candidate who can beat President Donald Trump. Secondly, we need a candidate who genuinely understands the policy issues that we’re facing. Lastly, we need a candidate who is a shrewd political operator. We need someone who can support us through their rhetoric and actions, but can do the same for all communities throughout the country, whether they be minority communities or not.

If Buttegieg happens to emerge as the Democratic nominee, we should keep in mind that he might not be as forceful on LGBTQ matters as we’d like. He’s a bright young man who understands that most elections are decided by those in the middle, not the voters at the extreme ends of the political spectrum. We shouldn’t be surprised if he decides to focus his energy on matters like healthcare and the economy — both of which affect more Americans — at the expense of going into the minutiae of how to prevent religious exemption bills and whether or not the federal government should pay for the gender confirmation surgeries of transgender military members. The African-American community was disappointed with Obama’s lack of force following the death of Michael Brown. We should expect that if Buttegieg is elected, he will falter. However, we should also expect to experience moments of immense pride, similar to the way in which the African-American community felt when Obama addressed the massacre that occurred at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

I certainly don’t have all of the answers about whether the LGBTQ community should get behind Buttegieg or not. Every individual will have to make that decision on their own. Going forward, I urge the community to listen carefully to what every candidate has to say about all of the issues that affect our daily lives. But with all that in mind, we aren’t single-issue voters. We’re pragmatic and are invested in a wide range of policy matters, which is something we should take pride in.

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