Positive Living: For me, it’s Buttigieg in the primary

By : Greg Stemm
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We LGBTQ folks have an unprecedented opportunity to vote for one of our own in the upcoming 2020 election cycle. Our candidate’s name is Pete Buttigieg—he’s openly gay, married to his husband and he is seeking the nomination to become the Democratic candidate for president of the United States.

I plan to vote for Buttigieg in the primary, and as members of the LGBTQ community I urge you to do the same. If he has the guts to run, we should have the fortitude to support him. Now is the time for community unity.

Before supporters of any of the other presidential hopefuls come running at me screaming bloody murder, let me say this. While I plan to vote for Buttigieg in the primary, I will support whichever candidate we nominate in the general election.

Admittedly he’s an underdog, but if he were to win the Democratic nomination, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay presidential nominee from a major political party. At 37, he would become the first millennial and the youngest president in our history if elected.

Pete served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and took an unpaid seven months leave during his mayoral term for a deployment to Afghanistan. For his counterterrorism work, he earned the Joint Service Commendation Medal.

While he hasn’t had any real “zingers” in the debates, he has had respectable performances. For me, his position on healthcare is a balanced view that isn’t too center like Biden or a little too left like Warren. It gets us to universal coverage but in a way that may be more palatable to some.

I also have to admit I don’t think there would have been the unprecedented forum specifically on LGBTQ issues without his presence in the race. By the way, I don’t care what his “prior commitments” were, Bernie should have been there.

Perhaps the only real criticism we could have of him as a community is his comments about the LGBTQ media. I don’t think any of us who work in that media think he’s either “too gay” or “too white, too privileged and not gay enough.” But it really doesn’t matter what we think. If he has criticism about how he’s being covered by our media why isn’t he aggressively pursuing interviews with them? Watermark’s editor has graciously offered to interview him. Perhaps he needs to let us help him.

Buttigieg has touted his work to improve his city of 100,000 residents as he’s prepared for an improbable jump from local politics to a presidential campaign. He’s also said Democrats could benefit from a new generation of leadership as they try to unseat Donald Trump in 2020.

While some voters may question if he could he win in America’s heartland as an openly gay candidate, he already has. When he was in the middle of his campaign to be re-elected as mayor, he realized he needed to come out, even if that the idea worried him.

“In the end, I got re-elected with 80% of the vote, even in a socially conservative community like South Bend, Indiana,” he’s shared. “So what that told me was that at least in that case, people were prepared to evaluate me and vote based on their judgment of the job that I was doing.”

Buttigieg has also noted that the charm of his campaign can be beneficial. “[The] underdog characteristics of this project are also something that’s going to give us permission and a healthy pressure to be bolder than the others,” he’s said.

Survey data from a Gallup poll in 2015 certainly backs this claim, as it found that 74% of Americans say they’re willing to vote for a gay or lesbian presidential candidate—about the same percentage that would be willing to vote for an evangelical Christian. We may be able to help here in Central Florida. Remember we are the queers of the politically important I-4 corridor. Our voices matter.

Of interest, if Buttigieg were elected he might not be our nation’s first gay president, just the first one to be open about it. Our 15th president, James Buchanan, was elected in 1856 and served one term. Buchanan was most likely homosexual, and spent much of his early career in a relationship with another politician, southerner William Rufus King.

As presidential historian Jim Loewen noted, “There’s no [reasonable] doubt that King and Buchanan were both homosexual, and that they were known to be by political leaders at the time.” Perhaps the most damning public evidence is their cohabitation; the two men actually shared a room in a Washington boarding house for 15 years, while both men were members of Congress.

It may seem early to ponder your vote in the primary, but there is bound to be such a deluge of information from the many candidates that you may be overwhelmed in the coming months. Just don’t forget our brother Pete—let’s make sure he has a good showing here in Florida even if he doesn’t win.

The primary is March 17, 2020. In that election my vote’s not going to be red or blue, it’s going to be rainbow!

Greg Stemm is a 37-year resident of Pinellas County. He is a founder of St Pete Pride and currently sits on the board of the LGBTQ Resource Center of the Gulfport Public Library. He is an outspoken activist on many issues including HIV/AIDS education.

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