Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., recently formed an exploratory committee, his first step in order to run for president in 2020. This is very exciting news. Pete is openly gay and married to his husband, Chasten. Pete would be the second openly gay candidate from either major political party to run for president of the United States.
My historic campaign in 2012 made me the first.
I campaigned in 26 states and beat Mitt Romney and Donald Trump in the first New Hampshire Straw Poll. I was featured in thousands of news stories around the world and constantly in the LGBTQ press. I was even interviewed by legendary journalist David Frost on Aljazeera TV.
In the Republican New Hampshire primary I received more votes than Michele Bachmann. I went on to compete in the Michigan, Maryland, and Puerto Rico primaries, where I beat Congressman Ron Paul. I appeared on my home state ballot in California and was the last candidate standing to compete against eventual nominee Mitt Romney in the June 26, 2012 Utah primary. Overall I finished in ninth place.
I made over 20 slick commercials that ran on TV, did direct mail and polling. Our campaign had all the trappings of the bigger ones, including a brand new fully decorated Fred Karger for President campaign bus. We had staff, consultants, interns, lawyers, accountants and spent over $1 million.
So if I was first, then why all the mainstream media omissions of my historic candidacy and so many qualifiers when describing Pete’s potential run? The Washington Post began it on December 17, 2018 when it ran its first big story on Pete. It said, “He’d be the first gay nominee from a major political party.” Others like to say that “Pete would be the first gay president.” Or they repeat the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s line, “Pete is the first openly gay elected official to run.” The LGBTQ media, however, like The Advocate is getting it right and including my campaign in their stories.
Pete is off to an incredible start. He has appeared on every cable news channel, the Sunday morning interview shows, in major newspapers, network morning shows, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert and even sat down with the ladies of The View. I was afforded few of these opportunities throughout my 2½ years of full time campaigning. There was tremendous opposition to my historic run, especially by the mainstream media.
Why the resistance when I ran for president eight years ago? Quite simply, I ran at a very different time and in a very different party.
I said in speech after speech that I was running for two reasons: (1) I wanted to send a message to the entire LGBTQ community, especially our youth, that you can do anything you want in life, (2) I hoped that my historic run would make it easier for the next openly gay candidate.
I often spoke about the historic candidacy of Shirley Chisholm, who in 1972 was the first African-American to run for president. She faced tremendous opposition from within her own Democratic Party and the mainstream media, but she persevered.
I ran against 10 mostly far-right Republicans for the nomination, including outspoken anti-LGBTQ candidates Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and eventual nominee Mitt Romney. I was attacked because of my sexuality, threatened by GOP officials and received death threats. In the 2020 primaries and caucuses, Pete will be running against a far more pro-LGBTQ field like Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker. And he’ll be seeking votes from a far more welcoming Democratic electorate.
My Republican credentials are strong. I spent 30 years as a GOP political operative. I was a senior campaign consultant to Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. Yet, I was never allowed in one single Republican debate, even though I was often tied with or ahead of several of my primary opponents in national polls including Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman. In spite of these poll numbers, Fox, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, and Bloomberg all refused to allow me into their debates, presumably because they were afraid of the antigay backlash.
When Fox News would not let me into its second debate in Ames, Iowa, even though I had qualified for it, I fought back. We filed a sworn complaint against Fox News and its two top executives, Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, with the Federal Election Commission.
I was banned from the ballot by Republican state parties in New York, North Carolina and Florida. But was welcomed onto six other state ballots.
When Jesse Jackson ran for president in 1984, nearly every news story referred to Rev. Jackson as the “first African American to run for president since Shirley Chisholm.” Jesse Jackson was never referred to as the “first African American minister” or the “first African American man” to run for president. That is not the case in 2019.
The mainstream media’s distortion of this important piece of LGBTQ history appears intentional. It’s wrong and it’s unfair. By trying to erase my historic candidacy, they are doing a tremendous disservice to me and to the thousands upon thousands of people who contributed, volunteered and participated in our campaign.
When I began my journey in February of 2010 only five states allowed same-sex marriage, "don’t ask, don’t tell" was still on the books, we had lost 31 out of 31 state marriage equality elections, and President Obama was still opposed to marriage equality. In fact, I was the only full equality candidate running in 2012 from either party.
I’ve spent the last 40 years as an LGBTQ activist, beginning in 1978 in California working directly with campaign manager David Mixner to help defeat the hateful Briggs Initiative, Proposition 6, which would have banned all LGBTQ teachers in California. In 2008 I founded, funded and ran Californians Against Hate (now Rights Equal Rights), boycotting and exposing the biggest donors to qualify and pass Proposition 8, the campaign to take same-sex marriage away from millions of Californians. I have been a full-time activist ever since and going after the opponents of equality like the Mormon Church, its front group the National Organization for Marriage and their major donors. I’ve been heavily involved in many of our toughest LGBTQ civil rights battles.
Like Chisholm, who is memorialized in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., I was honored to be asked last year by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History for all the archival material on my life, my LGBTQ activism, and my 2012 campaign for president.
So, Pete, go for it. I hope that I helped pave the way for your run. It’s an opportunity to have a loud megaphone not only for issues important to you, but to be that voice and inspiration to our vulnerable LGBTQ youth. They need role models like us, and examples that show them there are no longer any limits to what they can do in life — they can even run for president of the United States.
FRED KARGER is a longtime political consultant, LGBTQ rights activist, former presidential candidate, and founder of Rights Equal Rights.