LGBTQ caucusgoers in Iowa not necessarily all in for Pete Buttigieg

'No constituency group in this state moves in a monolithic fashion'

Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg leads his supporters as they make their way to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar
Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg leads his supporters as they make their way to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Sunday, June 9, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — The 2020 campaign features an openly gay presidential candidate but that doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk that South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is a lock among gay, lesbian and transgender Iowans who expect to attend the Democratic caucuses.

Troy Price, chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, says Buttigieg has generated a lot of interest and intrigue. But issues that will generate support among Iowa’s LGBTQ community go beyond equality to include health care, climate change, job creation, education and revitalizing rural Iowa.

“No constituency group in this state moves in a monolithic fashion,” he said. “I think there will be wide support for all the candidates coming out of the LGBTQ community, but I will say that as a gay man I don’t think anyone thought that we would, especially now, have a candidate in the top tier who is LGBTQ.”

Buttigieg has made inroads with the LGBTQ community by being able to talk personally about his experiences and perspectives since coming out. But his double-digit position in public opinion polls shows his support is rooted in a broader appeal.

Likewise, other Democrats have embraced diversity, inclusion, opportunity and equality by pledging to secure legal protection for members of the LGBTQ community and to roll back or reverse policies enacted by the Trump administration they see as discriminatory.

Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel, executive director of One Iowa, one of the state’s largest LGBTQ organizations, said gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Iowans who make up an estimated 3.6 percent of the state’s population have become an influential group within the Democratic Party and sought-after constituents in the caucus process.

“I anticipate a lot of excitement and a lot of engagement,” said Hoffman-Zinnel. “We are a very engaged group of people because many of us have been directly impacted by certain policies, and so I think that we show up at higher rates compared to the general public when it comes to things like voting and caucuses.”


The fact that nearly half of the 24-member Democratic Party presidential field — most in Iowa to speak at last Sunday’s Hall of Fame in Cedar Rapids — made appearances or spoke at the Capital City Pride Fest near the Iowa Capitol indicates the growing influence of the LGBTQ community, he noted.

“I think it just goes to show how far we’ve come where the LGBTQ community is much more mainstream and I think it also shows the power that our community has within the political party,” Hoffman-Zinnel said.

Speaking on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program this week, pollster Ann Selzer said a candidate’s sexual orientation did not seem to matter among likely caucusgoers.

She helped compile a Des Moines Register/Mediacom/CNN Iowa Poll that showed support divided among Iowa Democratic presidential candidates at 24 percent for Joe Biden, 16 percent for Bernie Sanders, 15 percent for Elizabeth Warren and 14 percent for Buttigieg.

“We had a finding that about two in three say it’s more important to them to have a candidate with a strong chance to defeat Donald Trump more than that they share their stands on particular issues. So that says electability,” Selzer said the poll found.

But poll respondents were given a set of seven candidate traits to rank and integrity came in first, followed by intelligence, leadership and electability, she noted.

“They want to win, but ... their preferred arsenal is integrity and intelligence, and that may be what Pete Buttigieg sort of is exuding in a way that other candidates could emulate perhaps and in a way that is getting some traction there.” Selzer added.

Buttigieg enhanced his Iowa stock with appearances last Friday at a Matthew Shepard Scholarship awards ceremony honoring the Wyoming college student who was beaten to death in 1998 for being gay, as well as giving opening remarks at last weekend’s Pride Fest in Des Moines.


“I think he’s definitely generated a lot of interest from the community because we have such a visible and qualified candidate who also happens to be an openly gay individual, so I think that definitely has drawn a lot of people. But I don’t think we should assume that he has the entire community,” said Hoffman-Zinnel.

“I think there are many candidates who have been supportive of the LGBTQ community and I think there are going to be various reasons why people might gravitate toward other candidates,” he added.

Other Democrats also generated some LGBTQ buzz, like when New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand served drinks at Des Moines’ oldest gay bar; won the endorsement of Kyla Paterson, the first transgender chair of the Stonewall Caucus of the Iowa Democratic Party; and announced that Vana Rosenberg, a drag queen she met at the Blazing Saddle bar, planned to caucus for her.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke participated in a morning 5K Pride run and was among the candidates celebrating the 10th anniversary of Iowa’s landmark same-sex marriage court decision. He also spoke in support of the Equality Act, a bill to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker mingled with Iowans gathered at the Pride Fest food booths set up on East Village streets, and touted his LGBTQ bona fides by noting he raised a pride flag alongside the American flag at city hall when he was mayor of Newark, and stood up for marriage equality.

“I declared that I wasn’t going to marry anybody until everybody could get married,” Booker told a participant who paused for a “selfie” with the senator.

Sally Pederson, a former Iowa lieutenant governor and Democratic activist, said there probably are a lot of gay and lesbian activists in Iowa who want to see Buttigieg do well, but do not necessarily believe he should be the nominee to face Trump in 2020.

“I think he’ll be very popular and there will be a lot of excitement among that very activist group, but I don’t think that necessarily means all of those people think he’s the best candidate to lead the ticket,” said Pederson. “He’s sort of part of the mix.”


Price — who introduced Buttigieg at the Hall of Fame by saying “If he does get elected, he will beat me to my childhood dream of being the first openly gay president” — said there is a lot of time until the Feb. 3 caucus day.

“Candidates are doing what they should do — they’re trying to find ways to reach out to this community just like they would any other community and they’re trying to garner as much support as they can.”

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