Pete Buttigieg

Mark Segal | Philadelphia Gay News

Pete Buttigieg, who has served as mayor of South Bend, Ind., since 2012, came out as a gay man in a self-penned essay published by the South Bend Tribune. This past April, he declared his candidacy for president of the United States.

Mayor Buttigieg and I spoke on the phone about his campaign, his values and who he looks up to in the LGBTQ community


Mark Segal: When you entered the race as an openly gay man, did you realize the historical significance and what the LGBT community expected? Pete Buttigieg: You know, it’s one thing to realize it in theory; it’s another to see it play out in practice. Seeing teenagers come up to me and let me know what this campaign means to them, and folks who are of a different generation who just never thought that they would see this, sometimes coming up with tears in their eyes, really has made me feel a different level of awareness and fulfillment but also responsibility around that fact about this campaign.

What people from our community historically do you admire? Of course, anybody who seeks office and is out owes a lot to Harvey Milk and the tradition that he now represents. It’s almost impossible to imagine, I think now what that would have meant at the time. And then in my own lifetime, I remember the judiciary hearings, when they were trying to impeach President Clinton, seeing Barney Frank run circles intellectually around so many people. Realizing that he was also an out member of Congress changed my awareness of what was possible.

I also admire people who have come into the public eye recently. Danica Roem in Virginia — just extraordinary the way she has been able not just to break barriers and challenge the backwards-looking culture warrior that she beat but also to do it in a way that truly focused on her constituents and to talk about issues like traffic and commuting as well as issues like equality.

There are so many really inspiring figures out there and obviously, I’m aware that I’m standing on the shoulders of so many who helped pave the way.
In a few decades we went from zero candidates running for public office to a man running, openly gay, for president. Have you sought advice from some of those pioneers like Barney Frank or Tammy Baldwin or Elaine Noble? Yeah, I’ve had a chance to meet Tammy Baldwin [and] Annise Parker has been a great source of encouragement and support as well as advice. I’m not sure what’s more amazing, the fact that we’re the first to do this or the fact that we can do it at all.

The largest number of those opposing you have been religious protesters. Is there a time that either on a personal level or on the campaign that you’ve faced homophobia one-on-one? Somebody will come up on a rope line and have something nasty to say, [and] stuff com[es] in the mail, although I don’t pay too much attention to that. But I gotta say that any homophobia that comes my way is less concerning than what’s happening to so many youth and really vulnerable people out there of any age, what’s happening to black trans women. I try not to dwell on the irritation of any of the nonsense that might come my way because … I can feel all the support that I have, [from] folks from my own team and from millions of people out there.

When [Barack Obama] was a candidate, he kept running up to the race issue, no matter how many issue papers he put out on certain subjects. … . [He] did something spectacular: He decided he had to address the issue in a major speech [just on race] in March 2008. Do you think if that one issue keeps plaguing you, you’re going to have to give the LGBT equality speech, and are you prepared to do that? I’m not sure my equivalent of that speech will be a speech, although it might be. I think it is important for folks to hear me tell my story, and while I’ve done it in a number of ways, I may need to find new ways to do it. I think … also [about] the steps that President Kennedy had to take to reassure voters that they could vote for the first Catholic president. I remember from 2008 people saying, “This is not an obstacle for me, but I’m just not sure about everybody else,” and finding a way to speak to that and stay ahead of it.
I think we’ll continue seeking the right ways to do that, true to who I am and true to what we need to convey as well.

There’s this old saying — politics is a dime and a day — meaning politics can change on any given issue, and you can’t stay in politics unless you raise funds. You’ve had an incredible success at raising funds. You have [enormous] support from the LGBT community, which would like you to stay in through the convention. Do you feel an obligation that regardless of where the polls go or where the votes go that you need to stay in just to be front and center on this issue? There are so many things that motivate this campaign. We’re certainly conscious of the historic nature of it, and at the same time, there are many reasons why we’re in this and why I’m going to stay in it. We want to know that I’ve got the resources to go the distance. I’m glad that we do, because … sometimes what’s making things harder for you politically can turn around and be an asset a few months or weeks later.

Some of the candidates who will be appearing with you at this week’s CNN Town Hall meeting on LGBT equality have long-standing positions — Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden — and have evolved on our issues long before most others. How do you differ from them on LGBT issues? I think we all have different areas of emphasis. I’m certainly proud of my record, not just in terms of my identity but what we’ve done, because I think it’s important not to take for granted or assume that, just because I’m out, LGBTQ voters are going to automatically decide I’m the best person. I think that what’s really important is to have a robust and strong plan. And to me, the Equality Act is very important, but I hope it’s also understood that there’s a lot more that we need to do proactively. Each of us has an obligation to put forward a robust plan and not simply make it seem as though we think that the struggle was won when marriage equality came to the land or that the Equality Act is all we’ve got to do.

One of the most important things you do [is be] a role model for LGBT youth. That’s a heavy responsibility. How does that weigh on you? When … people see in you so much more than one person can really be, you realize that it’s not just you but what you’re building. And to me, the best way to make good on that is not only to seek to act with integrity and do the right thing, but also to make sure that our campaign organization shows the values that we’re trying to promote, including the idea of belonging.

It’s part of what I’m trying to build for the whole country. And I’m very mindful of the obligation to live up to the need to model and support those values.