The complex reasons why gay men are in a hate-love relationship with Pete Buttigieg

The complex reasons why gay men are in a hate-love relationship with Pete Buttigieg

At the 2020 Democratic caucus in Iowa, mayor Pete Buttigieg made history as the first openly gay man to win a delegate at a presidential caucus.

Official results are still coming in, but with 60 per cent of precincts reporting, the Indiana mayor was leading senator Bernie Sanders by 2 per cent.

Buttigieg was a relative unknown in US politics just 12 months ago, which makes his strong showing in Iowa even more impressive.

As the first openly gay candidate to do this well in a presidential primary, you might assume that the LGBTQ+ community is the driving force behind Buttigieg’s popularity. Yet seeing the reaction to the results in Iowa has highlighted stark divisions among gay men in terms of their opinions on him.

Just as many women failed to warm to Hillary Clinton in 2016, gay men are by no means completely sold on Pete.

The tension between identity and politics can create discord between minority candidates like Buttigieg and minority voters who don’t often see themselves represented by politicians on the national stage.

So what does seeing someone like Pete Buttigieg be embraced by so many heterosexual voters and the mainstream media mean to gay men? And is his historic candidacy really such a huge leap forward?

At a time when “identity” is discussed so often, do gay men feel pressure to support Buttigieg? And is it disappointing for those who don’t feel able to?

To find out the answers to these questions, indy100 asked 10 gay men for their views on the gay man that everyone is talking about.

“Pete isn’t new”

- Nathan Ma

"Pete Buttigieg is, at the end of the day, more aligned along axes of race, class, and gender with most presidents in the history of the States. For those celebrating his candidacy as a groundbreaking accomplishment for the “gay community”, I simply wonder…. which one?"

"Buttigieg’s success won’t be enough”

- James Ball

"I suspect there’s a slight tragedy to Pete Buttigieg’s run. He feels very much packaged as the most acceptable possible version of a gay man to the USA’s still widely homophobic voting base – a Christian, a veteran, a clean-cut white man married to another. In Buttigieg’s defence, that absolutely may just be who is (and that’s great for him if so), but it is also the absolute least challenging way for anything other than heterosexuality to present itself to US voters.

"The sadness comes in it just feels like it won’t be enough. The USA is one of the least accepting liberal democracies towards homosexuality – and the Republican Party and Fox News machine haven’t even started any attacks on Mayor Pete just yet. It feels as if this poise – which alienates some LGBT onlookers, as well as some wider subset of younger voters – will prove all for nothing, and it will still be some time until the USA has an openly gay president. It will be far longer than that until it has a queer president."

“He’s held to an impossible standard”

- Damian Barr


"There is no perfect candidate. And with such an imperfect president we mustn’t settle for an opponent who is simply ‘not as bad’. As always, the women, LGBTQ+ and POC candidates are being held to almost impossibly high moral standards. It’s undeniably inspiring to see an out gay man run for the highest office in the world and casually turn to hug his husband – it will be inspiring for LGBTQ+ people and allies everywhere. It makes me feel seen. When we have more LGBTQ+ candidates the burden of representation will not be so great. He’s a man, not superman."

“His politics reeks of white centrism and privilege”

- Elias Jahshan

"In my view, Pete Buttigieg's politics reeks of white centrism and privilege, and he seems desperate for hetero approval. It makes him hard to like. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have better policies – including better LGBT platforms than Buttigieg himself.

"I’ve noticed some gay men – and other progressives – seem to have jumped on the Buttigieg celebratory bandwagon, but it all reeks of shallow single issue representation for the sake of representation. It is also another example of privileged white gay men centring themselves while being seemingly blind to intersectionality and nuance when it comes to politics and the wider LGBT+ community."

“Buttigieg is blessed and cursed to be a symbol of the community”

- Josh Milton

"Pete Buttigieg went from a midwest mayor to Democrat darling overnight. He's weathered complaints from all sides and grappled on the national stage over whether his sexuality is his defining trait. His policies may be no more mild than mayonnaise. He struggles for solidarity with anyone not white, gay and cis. His speeches are disappointingly empty of trans people of colour at such a crucial time. Buttigieg is blessed and cursed to be a symbol of the community, and as much as we yawn at his iron-pressed white shirts, to see a gay man soar in an America so fractured – that can only be described as remarkable."

“In Pete Buttigieg we see a conflict​

- Josh Willacy

"I think in Pete Buttigeg we see a conflict between the significance of gay representation in the highest political office, and an understanding that the policies, institutions, people and interests he represents are not those of the most marginalised within society and certainly within the LGBT+ community. Billionaire backers and a poor record in race relations in his home state will outweigh having a gay man in the White House for many people. He wouldn’t be my first choice by any means, that said I think whatever happens it is critical people unite behind the candidate chosen if the democrats are to defeat Trump."

“I would have expected more support for his campaign from the community”

- James Mackenzie-Blackman

"I’ve read and observed a lot of division about Buttigieg from within the gay community. Yes, politicians need to be held accountable, but I would have expected more support for his campaign from the community to which he belongs.

I’ve read scathing articles about his 'straightness' which I find offensive and think need to be considered with caution. As a parent to two adopted sons I empathise with the impact this has. I too have encountered challenge to my own gayness as a result of choosing to parent - a sort of dissatisfaction at a heteronormative set of life choices. It’s offensive and divisive."

“I'm distressed by how many queer people are piling on him”

- Matt Seymour

"Pete seems like a reasonably charismatic, well educated guy from central casting, sort of middle of the road politics for 2020, which is more liberal than Obama by a fair bit. Basically I think he's ok, but nothing that special. But some people are calling him a 'rat' or saying his kiss with his husband wasn't passionate enough? Why? Because he he had a good result and isn't Bernie? I'm a little distressed by how many queer people are piling on him, like can't we be happy that one of us is doing well? I guess I just wish people wouldn't be so quick to shit on moderate Dems so vigorously."

“His economics aren't all that”

- Rob Barker

"On the base level it's great we've come so far as to have an openly gay democratic presidential candidate. On the other hand, he's the definition of a heteronormative gay... I mean, even his husband is called bloody CHASTEN. He's white, cis and from an upper middle-class background. I'd say that policies are what makes the candidate relevant to the LGBTQ+ community... And in my view his economics aren't all that when compared to other candidates."

“It's really great that someone who is gay is doing so well”

- Ben Kelly

"I quite like Mayor Pete. I think he's young and fresh, he's got an understanding of the issues facing millennials across the country as well as average families in the midwest, who are key to reclaiming ground for the Democrats. Some people might not think he's progressive enough, but I'm not sure a candidate to his left is going to beat Trump, so I don't see this as a negative.

"It's really great that someone who is gay is doing so well in this race, and we should celebrate that. It's counterproductive for some in the community to call him out for effectively 'not being gay enough', but this is always the case – I remember people saying Obama 'wasn't black enough' as well. Ultimately, what matters is how wide into the electorate he can reach, and how far he can go to effect change. The fact that he's a member of our community is a bonus."

More: Pete Buttigieg posted a bizarre photo of himself 'walking' and people think it's staged

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