Running while gay is an uphill battle — a fight Mayor Pete is taking head-on
A lot has been said this week about Pete Buttigieg’s unprecedented rise in the Iowa polls. Some see him as an example of the discounted obstacles that female candidates face. Namely that men are judged for their potential, whereas women are judged for accomplishments. There is another side to this story that I ask my straight sisters to consider.
I figured out I was bisexual before I learned to read. It was 1990, I was 3 years old, and was infatuated with the cartoon Jessica Rabbit. I also found pre-school me wanting to be Danny Zuko so it would be me who ended up with Sandy at the end of the movie.
Being queer in rural Minnesota was not an option. My barely on the map hometown was home to a dozen conservative churches. Queer was an insult, an abomination against God. It was something you should never be, and if you were, you should never act on it. My grandmother stopped watching ABC because Ellen DeGeneres came out on national television. Gay people were promiscuous. Marriage was between a man and a woman. Children should have a father and a mother. God did not design gay people because gay people cannot procreate. False beliefs drilled into our heads to ensure we were never encouraged to become gay. As if we had any say on whether we were or not. The result of this brainwashing was shame and fear.
In my third year of college, I watched a documentary about a woman who spent years fighting for custody of her paralyzed wife of 20+ years. Many states at the time, under the Defense Against Marriage Act, did not recognize gay marriage. Inspired, I wrote a short play, entitled STATE LINE, about a Massachusetts woman who got into a car accident in Texas that left her comatose, and her wife’s fight to be with her before her death.
STATE LINE was my first act of protest against a homophobic America where children grow up to be afraid of themselves. From there, I dug into my community’s history: Stonewall and police brutality, the AIDS epidemic, Matthew Shepard, Nazi Germany, Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell, rape in prisons, and the global persecution of the LGBTQ community.
A glance into LGBTQ history will highlight that while Pete receives benefit in the polls from being white and male, he is not privileged to win this election. To say so is a rejection of the gay experience. Until this moment, you could either run for President or be gay. Not both.
There have been a grand total of 25 openly LGBTQ members in Congress, 13 of which were involuntarily outed, came out while serving or came out after leaving office. Which means only 12 Congresspersons in history ran openly queer for their first term, starting with Tammy Baldwin in 1999. The only other person to run for President while gay was Fred Karger, who failed to get the Republican nomination in 2012. The odds are not in a queer person’s favor.
Not to be forgotten, the run itself comes with great personal risk to one’s safety. Harvey Milk, predicting his assassination, famously said in a recorded will, “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closest door.” Homophobia is real and can be hateful and violent. In every single oppressive regime in world history, gays have been the target of persecution.
If Pete is elected the 46th President of the United States, it will be the largest step forward for LGBTQ representation in American politics. His presidency will not end homophobia, just as President Barack Obama’s did not end racism. Still, let us all celebrate that he is the frontrunner in Iowa. This Des Moines Register poll tell us one powerful thing: his campaign is opening eyes. Pete Buttigieg is not simply someone to tolerate, he is someone for your children to look up to.
At this moment, we are experiencing a fundamental shift in America. Even if you do not plan to vote for him in the primary, please recognize he stands for something greater than himself.
[read in full at Medium.com]