Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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Iowa LGBTQ Activists Leaning Toward Warren, Buttigieg

Warren Buttigieg

As Iowa Democrats prepare to gather Monday night to cast the first votes of the presidential nominating contest, several LGBTQ activists in the state have come out for either Elizabeth Warren or Pete Buttigieg.

The Advocate has looked at a small and admittedly unscientific sample of prominent LGBTQ Iowans, including elected officials and grassroots organizers, who’ve spoken to this publication or made their preferences known elsewhere.

Warren, the senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts, is the choice of Karen Mackey, a Native American and LGBTQ activist from Sioux City. “Senator Warren is a persistent, visionary candidate with a bold vision for our future,” Mackey told The Advocate via email. “She is a corruption fighter, which we desperately need today. Warren wants to repeal the filibuster, which is necessary in order to pass the Equality Act.”

The filibuster is the practice of delaying a vote on a bill in the Senate. It no longer requires a senator to make a lengthy speech to hold up action (as in the classic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). Now it means a vote on a given bill can be delayed indefinitely, while other business goes on, unless 60 senators vote to end debate on the legislation, so the bill itself can go to a vote. Among Democratic presidential hopefuls, Warren, Buttigieg, Tom Steyer, and Andrew Yang have all said they favor ending the filibuster, while some other candidates say they’re open to the idea.

Don Dew, a gay Iowan who’s been an activist at the intersection of LGBTQ and disability issues for more than a decade, offered a similar argument for Warren. “I have been impressed with Sen. Warren’s persistence to make certain all people are equal,” he told The Advocate. “We need a visionary like her to repeal the filibuster if our community wants to pass the Equality Act that has been too long in coming. As president, Elizabeth Warren will show all Americans what it is to be equal, and to be treated fairly as deserved. It will be a new era for everyone.”

The mention of Warren’s persistence refers to when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in 2017, cut her off when she was reading a letter the late Coretta Scott King had written detailing the problems with Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who was up for confirmation as U.S. attorney general. McConnell later said of Warren, “Nevertheless, she persisted,” which became a rallying cry for feminists and other opponents of Donald Trump’s administration.

Liz Bennett, an Iowa state representative who’s bisexual, is another Warren supporter. In a column for Iowa paper The Gazette last year, Bennett, of Cedar Rapids, cited Warren’s “real, detailed plans for leveling the economic playing field and ensuring opportunity for all” as a reason to back her. “Warren has plans for tuition-free college, student debt cancellation, universal child care, affordable housing, green manufacturing, breaking up monopolies and much more,” Bennett wrote. She also mentioned Warren’s creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Another Iowa elected official, Matt McCoy, favors Buttigieg. McCoy, who has served in both the Iowa House and Senate — he was Iowa’s first openly gay state lawmaker — is now on the Polk County Board of Supervisors. He announced his endorsement of Buttigieg, until recently the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and the first truly viable openly gay presidential candidate, in September.

“Our country desperately needs a leader that unites Americans around our shared values, instead of driving more partisan wedges between us. … We need someone who understands the capacity of local governments to solve problems in the White House,” McCoy said in a statement distributed by the Buttigieg campaign. “I trust Pete and his Midwest values to find bold solutions to these difficult problems. As a veteran and a Midwest mayor, Pete can heal the division in our country. I trust Pete’s heart and know that he will always work to support the best interest of Americans.”

Nate Monson, executive director of Iowa Safe Schools, which works to provide supportive environments for LGBTQ students, said he’d be caucusing for Buttigieg as well. (His endorsement is personal, not on behalf of the organization, which does not endorse candidates.)

“The Buttigieg campaign has made a priority of organizing in rural communities across our state,” Monson told The Advocate. “Bringing back rural voters who voted for Obama and went to Trump is critical for winning in 2020.  Most LGBTQ Americans live in rural communities, and it is important for us to have candidates not afraid to go out there and meet us where we are. I’ve had a chance to get to know Chasten [Pete Buttigieg’s husband] really well, and he is caring, compassionate, and smart on the issues. We can defeat Trump and put in the White House a first family who will do great things in our country.”

Iowans will gather to caucus Monday at 7 p.m. local time. The caucus procedure is different from a primary, although, like a primary, it’s a means of choosing a party’s candidate. Participants gather in living rooms, libraries, and other venues in 1,678 precincts across the state to hash out who to support.

“The Iowa caucuses are kind of like neighborhood meetings where people get together and — out in the open, with no secret ballot — try to win over their friends, family and neighbors to support their preferred candidate,” NPR explains. At the end of the evening, the caucusgoers in each precinct will decide on a candidate, and the statewide tally will eventually determine how Iowa’s delegates are assigned (read all about it here).

The winner of the Iowa caucus doesn’t always go on to get their party’s nomination. Trump lost the caucus to Ted Cruz in 2016. (With Trump basically unopposed for renomination, there’s no Republican caucus in Iowa this year.) And many political observers are bothered that both Iowa and New Hampshire, which next week will hold the first primary of the 2020 contest, get so much attention from candidates when they’re more rural and less diverse than many other states. But being early counts for something, so both states get their moment in the spotlight every four years.

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