The impact of Pete Buttigieg recounting his coming out story
Pete Buttigieg made history at the Sept. 12 Democratic primary debate in Houston by recounting his coming out story on stage. When asked about professional setbacks and resilience, Buttigieg described the struggle of balancing his sexual orientation with his political career. “I had to wonder whether just acknowledging who I was was going to be the ultimate, career-ending professional setback.”
Buttigieg was a naval officer during the time of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which prevented military workers from discriminating against gay, lesbian or bisexual military employees, while also barring those groups from openly identifying as such while serving. During his time as mayor of South Bend, IN, Buttigieg served for a time under then Governor Mike Pence. Of course, Pence is known to be unsupportive of the LGBTQIA* community through his actions, including his previous support of conversion therapy.
During the debate, Buttigieg also described his mayoral re-election campaign in South Bend, when he wondered if it was worth it to come out and find love yet risk losing the election. He decided that he “was not interested in not knowing what it was like to be in love any longer, so [he] just came out.”
Buttigieg is only the second openly gay presidential candidate in a major party in American history, preceded only by Fred Karger, a Republican who ran in 2012. However, Karger never even made it to a debate stage, which is why Buttigieg’s campaign is so notable. Karger was much more aggressive about his identity during his campaign and considers himself an LGBTQIA* rights activist. While Buttigieg supports the LGBTQIA* community in many ways, including, for example, attending an LGBTQIA* forum on Sept. 20, he tends to let his policies define his campaign. Even when referring to the aforementioned election in South Bend, Buttigieg emphasized his values over the impact of being gay: “What happened was, when I trusted voters to judge me based on the job I did for them, they decided to trust me and reelect me with 80% of the vote,” he told the debate audience.
I find it refreshing to have a candidate who is running not to be the first gay president, but rather a president who happens to be gay. He and his husband, Chasten, who were married during the summer of 2018, are incredibly open about their affections for each other, especially on social media. However, when it comes to the campaign, Buttigieg strategically finds moments to address his personal life, striking a balance between awareness, activism and identity.
I think that Buttigieg is someone that the college-age generation needs to keep their eyes on, as he is one of the youngest presidential candidates to ever run, making him more inclined to take a millennial point of view. He is passionate about climate change issues, is incredibly socially liberal and tends to take a more moderate position on every non-social issue presented to him. While I understand that many people our age might be looking for a Bernie Sanders who will clear student debt and provide free healthcare, Buttigieg seems to find a compromise between avoiding completely drastic measures that may never make it through Congress and still having a plan to get the job done.
In terms of his demeanor and attitude in his campaign, Buttigieg is unlike most politicians, as he does not value winning above all else and knows when to put his morals and values above career. “Part of how you can win and deserve to win is to know what’s worth more to you than winning,” he said at the debate. His identity as a gay man makes him a trailblazer and an inspiration, and as long as he is not overshadowed by the political giants that are Biden, Warren and Sanders, I believe that Buttigieg could be the ideal choice for our generation in the 2020 presidential election.