Slight irritation can be heard emanating from Pete Buttigieg upon telling Clay Cane of Sirius XM’s Urban View, that he no longer listens to LGBTQ media because they have painted him as the “wrong kind of gay.” Mayor Pete is the first openly gay Democrat to run for president and his candidacy has placed him in a position of advocacy that he often seems uncomfortable with. I listened to the bizarre interview as he went on to justify his LGBTQ media moratorium by saying he is tired of hearing that “‘he’s too gay,’ ‘not gay enough,” from the folx who presumably should be his most ardent supporters.
Months after Buttigieg’s September Sirus interview, I was scrolling through Instagram and opened a post by one of Iowa’s foremost queer organizers. The familiar acronym stood in rainbow letters, its meaning now replaced with something more political, an overt statement that so many in the left-leaning queer community had been echoing for months.
LGBTQ: Let’s Get Buttigieg To Quit.
It’s a move you’d expected from the Alt-Right or Evangelicals. But this new “LGBTQ” movement was a directive from Millenials and queers, the communities that comprise Buttigieg’s identity and have helped set him apart as a decidedly different candidate. While his candidacy began as a historic moment for our nation, his presence in the race has unearthed conflict in the Democratic party that, now more than ever, has a left and a center. Mayor Pete doesn’t just lack support from LGBTQ folx and Millennials, he is also struggling to win over people of color as a recent Quinnipiac poll suggests. As the Democratic field’s diversity narrows, it is clear marginalized folx do not see Mayor Pete as their ally.
For some of his would-be peers, his centrist politics seem traitorous and damaging to advancing the queer movement. While Buttigieg may be under the impression that the resistance felt from the LGBTQ community has more to do with an invisible barometer measuring his brand of gayness and less to do with positioning himself as a passionate reformer instead of a revolutionary, it simply isn’t true. The queer community has a myriad of reasons to not support one of our own, perhaps loudest of which is that we do not see him as one of us. We see him as the embodiment of assimilation, perfectly palatable, working to bring about incremental change to systems that have historically oppressed queer folx, including criminal justice, housing, and healthcare. We see him donning his queerness circumstantially, in full rainbow regalia when it serves him and setting aside that same queerness in moments of policymaking, where he could unequivocally take a stand for equity.
One such moment was drafting his Medicare-for-All-Who-Want-It plan. According to a tweet in 2018, Buttigieg supported Medicare for All, and yet upon entering the presidential race his opinion had shifted. Mayor Pete’s plan unabashedly gives corporations the power to self regulate delivery of “affordable” options to people through the Marketplace, where they will continue to profit off of illness at convenient Bronze, Silver and Gold levels of coverage. Nothing says true equity quite like being forced to pick your level of financial investment in what should be a human right.
Pete’s plan suggests a reform and gentle regulation of the same healthcare system that watched while hundreds of thousands of people died from H.I.V because prescription drugs and, more recently, preventative drugs were too costly for patients to access. This doesn’t even take into account barriers erected by healthcare corporations for gender confirmation surgery, hormone therapy and mental health services that are just as essential to saving lives. If corporations are unable to provide an affordable solution, Buttigieg has stated that his plan will create “a natural glide” path to a Medicare For All plan, a plan that his opponents are already touting to success on the campaign trail.
Buttigieg’s please everyone policymaking prompts us to ask the question, is Mayor Pete afraid revisionist policy, the likes of which proposed by his competitors would separate him from his donor base who has a financial interest in incremental change? Or fearful he would alienate his moderate voters if he used his platform and queerness to unequivocally advocate for marginalized folx? Whatever the reason, it seems in this historic moment, Mayor Pete has decided it is best not to rock the boat and it is the exact reason his community has left him out at sea.
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Marti Payseur (she/her/hers) is the co-owner of Thistle’s Summit Bed & Breakfast located in Mount Vernon, Iowa. It is affectionately called “Iowa’s Queerest B&B.” She also makes a legendary sea salt chocolate chip cookie. Marti is a community activist, organizing around LGBTQ and feminist issues for One Iowa. One Iowa does not endorse any candidate.