Pete Buttigieg, who has served as mayor of South Bend, Indiana 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.
Wow, well 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 looking back, what that would have meant at the time. And then more recently, in my own lifetime, I remember seeing the judiciary hearings, when they were trying to impeach President Clinton, and seeing Barney Frank just run circles intellectually around so many people. Realizing that he was also an out member of congress I think changed my awareness of what was possible. I also admire people who have come into the public eye recently, some even later than I have. 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 talk about issues like traffic and commuting as well as issues like equality. There’s so many really inspiring figures out there, Annise Parker, I could go on and on. And obviously I’m aware that I’m standing on the shoulders of so many who helped pave the way.
Yeah, I’ve had a chance to meet Tammy Baldwin, and again 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. Part of just living it seems strange that I’d be the first major candidate to do this, then again you think about where we were just a decade ago.
That’s a great point. Many in our community never thought we’d see someone being so open and running for President, and we’d always looked at what that opposition would look like. While you’ve been running, the largest number of those opposing you have been religious protesters, and you’ve been very good by saying ‘I’m going to be judged by my god, not by you.’ Is there a time that either on a personal level or on the campaign that you’ve faced homophobia one-on-one?
Well, 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 not only about President Obama’s example, but also the steps that President Kennedy had to take to reassure voters that they could vote for the first Catholic President. So often it comes into form, and I remember this from 2008, is 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.
Well, you know, I think there’s 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. And if you say not knowing how things may evolve even from week to week, I’m glad that we do, because the very same things that can be a disadvantage in terms of an issue that’s visible or something that’s in the news, sometimes what’s making things harder for you politically can turn around and be an asset a few months or weeks later. So we’re definitely in this to go the distance and feeling increasingly bullish about how this is going to unfold.
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 to make a difference in their lives. 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 that’s table stakes, that there’s a lot more that we need to do proactively around issues like conversion therapy, protecting LGBTQ youth, attacking the AIDS epidemic, diplomacy around human rights including the way we think about how we treat refugees, work for community based programs. There’s so many things that we need to do that I think 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.
You know, I liken it to a moment of growth that happened to me, around what’s now been a very small thing when I was mayor, which was, when I was a candidate I used to think, when I was riding a bike, a little bit of irritation, oh I better wear a helmet because if somebody sees me without one they’re going to say something. And somewhere along the line I realized my responsibility was different, and I started thinking I better wear a helmet because somebody might see me without one and decide not to, and I’d be responsible for their safety. And I think it’s the same now on a much bigger stage. When people are looking to you, and 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, knowing just how many people have pinned their hopes on the conduct of this campaign as well as its outcome.