Opinion | Mayor Pete’s Gay Reckoning


Buttigieg has campaigned frequently with his husband, embracing him onstage, and has mentioned his marriage in debates. And he doesn’t shy away from questions about his sexual orientation, which he didn’t publicly acknowledge until the age of 33, shortly before his election to a second term as mayor of South Bend, Ind.

But he doesn’t volunteer lengthy ruminations about its impact on how he sees the world or showcase it in any other way. It’s there if you look and listen for it. But sometimes you have to look and listen hard.

None of the voters at his rallies in Iowa brought it up when I asked them what drew them to Buttigieg. They mostly raved about his intelligence.

Were there any particular obstacles he might face in a general election?

“His youth,” said Louann Cooling, 62, of Le Grand, Iowa. It was the same answer — his youth, or his inexperience — that others gave. No one mentioned his being openly gay.

Being gay and an emblem of progress hasn’t given Buttigieg any special traction with younger Democrats, who respond much less favorably to him than older Democrats do. It hasn’t established any solidarity with other minorities, though he reached for such a connection when stating a commitment to racial justice during the Democrats’ November debate.

“While I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country, turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate,” he said. “Wearing this wedding ring in a way that couldn’t have happened two elections ago lets me know just how deep my obligation is to help those whose rights are on the line every day, even if they are nothing like me in their experience.”

Those remarks didn’t have the effect he intended. Some African-Americans accused him of equating very different kinds of discrimination, and polls show that his support from black Democrats remains abysmal. When they appraise Buttigieg, they notice a whole lot beyond his sexual orientation, including worrisome friction between him and some black residents of South Bend and a path of extraordinary privilege (Harvard, a Rhodes scholarship, a job with McKinsey) that brought him to this point.


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