It took less than four years after the Obergefell decision legalized same-sex marriage nationwide for the first openly gay Democratic candidate in U.S. history to announce his intention to run for president. “Mayor Pete” is generating significant interest in his campaign. He very quickly reached the fundraising threshold to gain a spot on the debate stage of the Democratic primaries and is now, according to one poll, in third place in Iowa. He also just announced a $7 million first quarter fundraising haul. But none of this seems to impress Christina Cauterucci at Slate.
In an article published on March 28, Cauterucci asks whether “[Buttigieg’s] Gayness Count[s] as Diversity.” This strikes me as a question with an easy answer: yes. Buttigieg is the first openly gay Democratic candidate for president. (Fred Karger, who’s gay, ran a long shot campaign for the GOP nomination in 2012.) His run is historic and, more importantly, significant for millions of LGBTQ people living in America. For the first time, this community, which includes both Cauterucci and myself, is being represented on the national political stage. Rather than applauding the decades-long efforts of LGBTQ activists that made it possible for Buttigieg to run, or reflecting on the progress this country has made on gay rights while acknowledging the work that still needs to be done, Cauterucci chooses to quibble.
“Buttigieg isn’t just gay,” Cauterucci begins, “he’s also white, male, upper-class, Midwestern, married, Ivy League–educated, and a man of faith.” She’s correct —Buttigieg is white, male, relatively wealthy, and educated. He enjoys more than his fair share of privileges. His whiteness and masculinity are immediately visible and will afford him protections from persecution that women and racial minorities will never have. It is important to recognize this as Cauterucci has done and I hope that other cisgender white gay and bisexual men will take the time to reflect on the privileges they’ve enjoyed.
Cauterucci doesn’t stop there, though: “A marginalized sexual orientation can remain unspoken and unnoticed for as long as a queer person desires [emphasis added].” I don’t know Christina Cauterucci personally. I don’t know her coming out story. But I can’t imagine she believes the closet is a desirable place to be for a queer person. I can’t imagine she felt that being closeted was a desirable state of being. And I can’t imagine she thinks that Pete Buttigieg desired to hide a part of himself from the world until he was in his 30s.
I came out to my parents almost two years ago. It went well. They supported me and have welcomed my boyfriend, Chris, as part of the family. I consider myself lucky; many of the gay and bisexual men I’ve met had much more harrowing experiences with coming out. I’m even luckier to live in the D.C. area, where gay couples can feel relatively safe publicly holding hands, kissing, and even just leaning against each other on the train. Chris and I don’t have to return to the closet when we leave our apartment.
This isn’t true when we visit his parents. They live in Woodstock, Va., less than 100 miles outside of Washington. Those 100 miles take us from an urban area to a rural one, from Clinton country to Trump country. It takes us from a place where we can hold hands in public to one where we can’t. Being in public in Woodstock means going back into the closet.
I am a privileged person. I’m white, I’m a cisgender man, and I grew up in a well-off family with two college-educated parents. But I also live with a man in Fairfax County, Va., where we can be evicted from our apartment or lose our jobs for our sexual orientation. I don’t love my boyfriend less when we leave the safety of the D.C. area, but I have to act like I do. This act, playing it straight when we go to Woodstock, is not something Chris or I desire to do. It is something we must do. It is an act of self-preservation, not the fulfilling of a desire.
I haven’t met Mayor Pete, but I think I can safely say that he didn’t want to go through life with everyone assuming he was straight, feeling as though he was hiding a key part of his identity from his constituents. His coming out in 2015 was brave. He and his husband, Chasten, are out and proud. They are comfortable being who they are, despite rising numbers of hate crimes against LGBTQ individuals and despite the Trump administration’s rabidly anti-LGBTQ agenda. While Pete Buttigieg is a long way from claiming the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, his journey as an openly gay candidate is an inspiration.
Cauterucci may dismiss him as a man with “sturdy ties to straight culture,” and an “apotheosis of respectability politics.” Many more will dismiss him because he is married to a man. Mayor Pete has done more than enough to deserve serious consideration. He doesn’t need to be “gayer,” or change who he is in any way. He just needs to be Pete Buttigieg.
Patrick Cochran is a program manager from the D.C. area.