Clearly, the flavor of the week, or the month, or the season, in the U.S. presidential sweepstakes is an openly gay, 37-year-old mayor of a midsized Midwestern city. South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is on a big roll right now.
The young Harvard grad has given every evidence of being the “real deal,” an unusually articulate, principled progressive who focuses on morality and values.
He has challenged the religious right, including Trump supporters, for its hypocrisy for looking the other way in the face of Trump’s brazen and unapologetic sexual transgressions. He has challenged the religious left, where he places himself, to rise to the occasion of these times, to counter the hijacking of the religious dialogue by the right wing, and play a stronger role in the American political process.
The fact that Mayor Pete is gay is almost an afterthought with many, including on “Meet the Press” where Chuck Todd barely brought it up amid an array of other issues he bounced off the candidate.
Yes, in an ideal world, the matter of a candidate’s sexual orientation should probably be a non-starter, but, friends, we are far from there yet. I became convinced of this witnessing Mayor Pete’s remarkably candid and authentic remarks to the Victory Fund brunch in D.C. recently, where he spoke before a sell-out crowd of maybe 1,000 almost all LGBT people.
Yes, there were generous elements of a “boilerplate” campaign stump speech in his remarks. But then there was the more personal stuff, the stuff relating to his struggles as a gay person, about the closet, about the fear, the pain, the self-doubt, the personal challenges, and how he’s gotten to where he is today. It all had a ring of authenticity in a way that no not-gay person could emulate.
I’m sure there are plenty of places where people can read the whole speech online, or watch the video, so I’m limiting my comments to a main conclusion, namely, that LGBT people should be supporting this man because he speaks our language. He speaks it from his inside.
Yes, there is such a thing as “our LGBT language,” although there are plenty of debates about such subjects these days. The assimilation of “our tribe” into the dominant culture is a very big problem, in my view. It doesn’t mean that we have to be off-the-wall and totally bizarro. But we are who we are, and we bring to one another shared experiences of being LGBT that straight people, no matter how sympathetic or empathetic, share. It’s not their fault, they simply can’t know.
I really hope the startling and precipitous decline of LGBT social places in our culture, as imperfect as the bars and clubs are and have been, will begin to be reversed. I get it that the “new normal” economy has hit our people, and many lower income groups, particularly hard the last decade. There are more and more ways to economize and spending money at clubs is simply not as likely to happen as it once was. Then there is the anti-social role of the Internet.
But it is not an answer to say that, for social places, simply merging into straight environments is the solution. LGBT people need to be themselves, unfiltered, and that means being outrageous at times in our own unique and beautiful ways that we understand and appreciate among ourselves.
OK, well, when it comes to Mayor Pete, what’s important about him to me is that he “gets” this sort of thing. He’s gay! We have a shared institutional and emotional history.
He might not wind up being whom I support when my paltry sums of money and my voice are called to make a final choice for president. But in the meantime, Mayor Pete deserves and needs our community’s support, and we need his.
Nick Benton is a resident of Falls Church, Va., and author of ‘Extraordinary Hearts: Reclaiming the Central Role of Gay Sensibility in the Progress of Civilization.’