A gay president?

Is it wrong that one of the things I have loved about Buttigieg’s campaign is just how peripheral his gayness has been since the very initial “look, gay man running for president” phase.  He’s got all sorts of attention– mostly for his smarts and thoughtfulness and almost none of it for being gay.  To me, that’s huge progress.  He’s a bright, thoughtful guy and skilled politician, who just happens to be gay.  We don’t have to define him by that.  Sadly, for some they do.  Frank Bruni’s latest newsletter is great on this:

More on Mayor Pete
The debate about Buttigieg’s gayness arose principally from this column in Slate, which included the following paragraph:

“A marginalized sexual orientation can remain unspoken and unnoticed for as long as a queer person desires. A gay man who conforms to a critical mass of gendered expectations can move through life without his sexuality attending every interaction, even after he comes out. Buttigieg, for instance, would register on only the most finely tuned gaydar. Most people who are aware of his candidacy probably know he’s gay, but his every appearance doesn’t activate the ‘Hey, that’s that homosexual gentleman’ response in the average brain. That doesn’t mean he’s not gay enough — there’s really no such measure. It just means that he might not be up against quite the same hurdles that a gay candidate without such sturdy ties to straight culture would be.”

The author is asserting that Buttigieg, 37, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., doesn’t come across as particularly gay, meaning . . . what? That he lacks stereotypical mannerisms? That his voice isn’t high-pitched? I’m kind of floored, because I and other gay people around my age (54) or older spent most of our lives educating people about the bigotry and inaccuracy of those very stereotypes and trumpeting the message — the truth! — that gay people can be every bit as buttoned-down and strait-laced as, well, Pete Buttigieg! Now his divergence from those stereotypes is deemed remarkable and in need of dissection? Strange days indeed.

Also, I guarantee you that Buttigieg’s adherence to “a critical mass of gendered expectations” and failure to “activate” the homosexual-alert siren don’t mean that being gay has been incidental to his life and is incidental to his perspective. That he didn’t come out until he was 33 is all the proof you need that he wrestled privately with his sexual orientation and with fears about how the world would respond to it and to him.

And when I first met and interviewed him nearly three years ago, this is how he argued that Democrats should reclaim the word “freedom” from Republicans, who have tried to reserve it for their brand:

“You’re not free if you have crushing medical debt. You’re not free if you’re being treated differently because of who you are. What has really affected my personal freedom more: the fact that I don’t have the freedom to pollute a certain river, or the fact that for part of my adult life, I didn’t have the freedom to marry somebody I was in love with? We’re talking about deep, personal freedom.”

He sounds sufficiently gay to me. His powers of empathy seem plenty informed by his sexual orientation. And we need to stop making assumptions about how well someone can understand and address what minorities go through based on his or her looks or vocal inflections or anything of the sort. That’s the quintessence of prejudice. And it’s the antithesis of enlightenment.

Also, just yesterday my wife asked me if I thought we could actually have a gay president.  I would say “it depends” and if we were to, it would surely be somebody like Buttigieg, who clearly does not put his gayness front-and-center (and, really, do most straight people put that front and center?).  Anyway, some pretty interesting polling data on this from NBC:

A majority of Americans say they’re just fine with a gay candidate.

A combined 68 percent are either enthusiastic (14 percent) or comfortable (54 percent) with a candidate who is gay or lesbian.

What’s more, that jump isn’t just due to increasing tolerance among the younger voters whom Buttigieg, a millennial, can claim to represent.

The share of those younger than 35 who say they’re enthusiastic or comfortable with a gay candidate increased by 28 percentage points between 2006 and now, jumping from 47 percent to 75 percent.

And, while seniors are more likely to voice reservations about gay candidates, a majority (56 percent) now say they have no objections. That’s up from just 31 percent in 2006.

Honestly, I suspect those numbers are inflated by social desirability bias, i.e., in 2019 America some people will be reluctant to express anti-gay thoughts, regardless of their actual beliefs, but nonetheless very interesting.  Also, would love to have seen these numbers broken down by party.

And, no, I don’t think Buttigieg will be the nominee, but this is a man with a real political future.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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