If you're saying Pete Buttigieg 'isn't gay enough,' you are part of the problem

When identity politics turns on itself, we can end up ignoring a lot of people who have struggled to get where they are today, only to be told that they aren't oppressed enough for their struggles to count

Chris Riotta
New York
Wednesday 10 April 2019 16:20
Pete Buttigieg announces US presidential run

If Democrats prefer to destroy their own chances of winning back the White House before the 2020 primaries even begin, that’s their prerogative. And if they continue attacking candidates based on their identities — or apparent lack thereof — rather than their policies, Donald Trump could very well secure the Oval Office for a second term with a substantial victory.

But hey, that’s their choice.

If the left enjoys a circular firing squad as much as it seems, they got their wish in recent months. The most diverse pool of presidential candidates in American history are throwing their hats into the ring, seeing the president’s attacks on immigrants, minorities, the working class and traditionally bipartisan ideas (like providing asylum to refugees arriving at the nation’s borders) as an unprecedented opportunity to upend the status quo and connect with voters who may have outright ignored their platforms in past elections.

However, rather than pressing candidates on their records or encouraging them to adopt new stances — as some voters admittedly have — a faction of the left is hell-bent on massacring anyone they do not view as diverse enough to serve as the next face of the Democratic Party.

Take, for example, Pete Buttigieg. The millennial mayor of South Bend, Indiana could become the first openly gay presidential candidate to be featured on a major party’s ticket. He’s catapulted into the limelight as one of the top fundraisers to explore a presidential bid this year. His once long-shot campaign is receiving attention and donations from across the country. He captured the hearts of American voters with a message of freedom, bipartisan unity and progress, while denouncing “the Mike Pences of the world” who attack his sexuality as a sin in a viral speech this week, which will likely serve as a benchmark for when most voters became aware of his candidacy.

And yet some have decided, essentially, that Mayor Pete is "not gay enough" to represent the LGBTQ+ community in American politics. Recent weeks have brought a string of bad takes from commentators opining about how minority individuals should present themselves on the public stage, including one extraordinarily awful angle titled “Why Pete Buttigieg is bad for gays.”

That article derides Buttigieg’s decision to marry his husband, Chasten, in a traditional setting, mocking the pair for their choice of matching attire during the occasion and suggesting that he is “a very circumscribed sort of gay” receiving “a conditional membership to the club.” The astounding level of such blatant hypocrisy here deserves to be noted; by condemning how the mayor expresses his sexuality and celebrates his love, is the author not perpetrating the same injustice our community has fought against for centuries?

Another (since-changed) headline read “Is Pete Buttigieg just another white male candidate, or does his gayness count as diversity?”

“With momentum comes backlash, currently in the form of frustration that the well-qualified female and black candidates in the race are getting shoved aside for another white guy,” that article reads.

There is an understandable point these pieces are trying to make: Mayor Pete’s ability to blend into mainstream society might produce unrealistic expectations for all gay men in America to act or look a certain way. Because the most prominent gay man in American politics possesses a certain “straightness” in his character, we won't be taken seriously if we're flamboyant. Because he is of strict religious faith, and a veteran, and being that he did not meet his husband on "the app you may have been thinking of", that means most of us will still be constrained by rigid requirements, rather than accepted for who we really are. Such requirements have long existed in society for gay men, calling on us to essentially suppress our queerness in order to conform. Pete’s candidacy only reinforces those attitudes, according to his newfound critics.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Who knows whether Mayor Pete actually has a shot at winning the 2020 elections — or even the Democratic nomination? Maybe America isn’t ready for a gay president. As he says, “there’s only one way to find out.” But should he not receive the same attention as other diverse candidates because he isn’t enough of a minority? If the argument here really is that female candidates are being “pushed aside” to make way for “just another white guy,” that theory is disproven by the fact that Kamala Harris out-raised Pete Buttigieg by $5m (£3.8m) in their first announced hauls. When identity politics turns on itself, we can end up ignoring a lot of people who have struggled to get where they are today, only to be told that they aren't oppressed enough for their struggles to count.

We’re at a point where it seems voters may be willing to look past a candidate’s queerness, or their blackness, or anything that deems them to be “other” in mainstream society. And it's important to note that Mayor Pete appears to be an ally to intersectional minorities. “We've got to end the war on trans Americans and we need a federal Equality Act that would say that you cannot be fired just because of who you are or just because you love,” he recently said.

Shouldn’t we encourage candidates from all walks of life — no matter how diverse, or whether they fail to check off every box in the Oppression Olympics checklist — to enter the fray, rather than shunning those whose identities aren’t to our exact liking? We are continuing the same vicious cycle that brought us this current president. If nothing changes, that cycle will only continue.

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