Feb. 3rd, the 45th day on the Georgian calendar, is a day full of monumental events in American history. Many of these moments continue to resonate with and impact the lives of American citizens.
On Feb. 3 in 1870 the State of Iowa ratified the 15th Amendment, declaring that the “right of [male] citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” A little over a century later on the same day in 1995, Eileen Collins — the U.S. Air Force’s first female flight instructor — became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle.
Fast forward to 2021— a turbulent time in American history — South Bend, Ind.’s Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg became the United States’ first openly gay cabinet member. Appointed by President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., many Americans see Buttigieg’s appointment as a positive step on the road to a more progressive and inclusive America. It just may be, after all, as American history has had a long and ripe legacy of anti-racist efforts like the 15th Amendment laying the groundwork for expanding opportunities for all. Without that framework, the appointment of Pete Buttigieg (a military veteran and Rhodes scholar), might not be celebrated.
Prior to being appointed U.S. transportation secretary, the former Democratic presidential candidate’s history began in the Midwest where he grew up the only child of University of Notre Dame professors Anne and Joseph Buttigieg. Sadly, Pete’s dad passed away just days after his son announced his presidential candidacy in 2020. However, prior to his death, Joseph Buttigieg, along with his wife, did have the pleasure of witnessing numerous achievements already accomplished by their son Pete — many of which were not necessarily connected to being the first openly gay anything.
Peter Buttigieg’s academic career in higher education began with a Harvard University undergraduate degree in History and Literature. From there he went on to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics as an Oxford University Rhodes scholar. A few years later, Buttigieg would put much of that knowledge to the test as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve from 2009 to 2017. Somehow, in the midst of all this, which included (according to ABC News) a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan, Buttigieg found time to nurture a personal life. Nearing the end of his first term as South Bend mayor, Buttigieg met his husband Chasten in 2015. In true Millennial fashion, they met via the Hinge dating app and were married three years later in 2018.
At only 29 years old and while still serving in the military, Buttigieg had already been elected South Bend, Ind. mayor. Following his first term as mayor and in the middle of his bid for second term mayoral re-election, Pete Buttigieg publicly came out in a South Bend Tribune article. He opened with:
“Any day now, the Supreme Court will issue a decision on same-sex marriage that will directly affect millions of Americans. It comes at a time of growing public acceptance and support for equal rights. But no matter what the Court does, issues of equality are hardly settled across the country. Today it remains legal in most parts of Indiana (though not South Bend) to fire someone simply for being gay, and bullying still contributes to tragically high suicide rates among LGBT teens.”
Reifying the shifting tide of inclusion, Buttigieg garnered 80 percent of the votes, won that election and served a second term. With that win, Pete Buttigieg seemed to be on a political roll, or at least buoyed by a confidence that would propel him to continue seeking public office. That confidence was, undoubtedly, inspired by Americans who seemed to care more about his platform, track record and competency than they did his announcement of his sexual orientation. Whatever the case or reason, Mayor Pete — as he’s been affectionately referred to — briefly ran for president in 2020 before dropping out of the race and endorsing Bernie Sanders.
The secretary‘s Twitter profile boasts that he will be “working to ensure safety and make transportation more equitable while fighting climate change and creating jobs.” What he’ll actually accomplish as Secretary of Transportation is yet to be seen. In the meantime, we will see if his dream of a more accepting and loving nation is realized. As he foreshadows in the closing of his “South Bend mayor: Why coming out matters” article, he imagines a day when his future children won’t understand why revealing he is gay was ever considered to be newsworthy.
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