“Fuck off, I’m gay.”
—Sir Ian McKellen, in response to UK Home Secretary Michael Howard’s request for an autograph. Michael Howard supported Section 28.
I don’t know if y’all have heard, but Pete Buttigieg (a.k.a. Mayor Pete), the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is running to be president of the United States, and vying for the Democratic nomination, along with like a billion other Democrats. Many of whom are boring white dudes with bad takes. (Bernie’s running again!)
A lot of people in the Democrat base are tired of boring white dude Presidents. Which, fair, we’ve had 44 of them and one not-boring-white-dude. But there’s concern that the Democrats are going to play it conservative (heh) in 2020 because Hillary Clinton lost (“lost”?) in 2016. And the question I want to talk about today is:
Should we consider Mayor Pete to be a boring white dude, or does his gayness “count”?
That’s a Bad Question (and You Should Feel Bad)
I know I posed and framed the question, but in fairness, I am just echoing the framing of the debate I’m seeing. But the crux of my answer is: it’s complicated, and that question is meaningless. Does it count? Count for what? Diversity? Diversity of what?
Let’s try some others instead, to shed some light on what people may be getting at.
Do gay people still count as an oppressed class?
Please put down the phone or computer, take a moment to collect yourself, and then go fuck yourself.
Queer people today:
- can legally be denied services, because no public accommodations protection laws exists
- can legally be discriminated against in housing
- can legally be discriminated against in the workplace
- cannot donate blood or organs
- can legally be discriminated against when adopting
- can legally be tortured with “conversion therapy”
This is just the tip of the iceberg. We currently have the Equality Act proposed, which would extend a lot of civil rights laws to include queer people. Which means they do not today. And that’s just gay people. That doesn’t include trans people and other queer communities that face even more problems and oppression.
Queer people are still being murdered for being queer, queer people are still 40% of the homeless population, and most queer rights that exist come from Supreme Court rulings or Executive Orders, neither of which are looking as iron-clad as they once did, as far as solutions go.
So yeah, queer people are still an oppressed class.
If he’s the nominee, are the Dems just playing it safe?
On the one hand, absolutely not. There has never been an openly queer president. There have been three confirmed queer Senators in the history of the country, and one of them was elected just this year. One of them was not out during their Senate career. There have been 22 confirmed queer Representatives in the House in the history of the country. Four of them were just elected this year. Two of them retired to become two of the Senators we just talked about. That’s 23 queer individuals in the history of our country (that we know about), and as far as I can tell, about a third of them did not get elected or reelected after coming out. So clearly, the representation of queer people in our legislative and executive branches is not what it should be, and voters have shown no indication that choosing a queer person as your nominee is an easy or safe choice.
On the other hand, intersectionality is a thing. You can have a queer person who is also not a white man. That’s a thing. Queer people of color exist, queer women exist. You can also have trans people, who have never been out in Congress or the Presidency, as your candidate. And while I haven’t had the bandwidth or the emotional energy to dig into Buttigieg’s policies in depth, he does talk openly about his faith and advocate for politicians being able to discuss their faith, which makes him more palatable to many religious voters than an atheist or agnostic queer person may be. It feels like, again, without looking at policies, just presented identity (and only summarily at that), that the electability of Buttigieg hinges on queerness being the only revolutionary aspect of the identity being presented. And even then, his presented relationship with his queerness is assimilationist, viewing it as an uninmportant distinction. Which is a valid, but not radical, take on queerness. (There’s an entire post to be written about the complexity of assimilationism vs. queer exceptionalism. Another day.)
Is it better to have a gay president or a female president?
Both? Both? Both is good.
But seriously, this is an asinine question. We can have both–lesbians, bisexual women, and trans women exist, as do other female-identifying queer people. And while the injustice of having no representation has gone on for too long, we cannot solve that by refusing to elect someone who doesn’t represent all groups who are suffering oppression, and I think it’s wrong to try and reason about which group is more deserving, because we all deserve representation. I think, for me at least, agreeing on “maybe we’ve had enough straight white dudes for a hot minute” is a good place to start, and candidates with policies you can get behind that represent a margnialised community should be supported.
Who should I support/vote for/volunteer for/donate to?
Whoever inspires you. Whoever you believe in. Whoever has policies you support. Multiple candidates, if you like multiple people. If we don’t get a woman president in 2020, let’s aim for 2024. If we don’t get a queer president in 2020, let’s aim for 2024. Sure, both groups have been waiting for too long, and justice delayed is justice denied. But as there are queer women, you can’t support women and not support a queer candidate, and you can’t support queer people and not support a woman candidate, because either outcome is an important representation milestone for a subset of those communities and is important to getting their voices heard.
Could we do better? Always. Are both these options better than another straight white man? You bet.
But how do you feel about Mayor Pete?
Personally? Not a fan. In the interviews I’ve seen, he’s too conservative for my tastes, too unwilling to critique the current system or disrupt it too much. I don’t think electing him would be a tectonic shift, I think it’d be a quiet victory of not-much note outside its historical significance.
But I don’t think that’s because his gayness doesn’t count as diversity. I think that framing is wrong; with better policies, his queerness would totally set him apart. I think that’s my point, here: unimaginative policies don’t make you any less queer, and queerness is inherently something that is fundamentally new to the White House. I’m not arguing we should elect Mayor Pete. I’m just arguing that his handicap is that his policies are boring, not that he’s part of the same straight white dude brigade everyone is fed up with.