Pete Buttigieg — the first openly gay man to explore a presidential run in the Democratic Party — does not watch RuPaul's Drag Race.
"I’ve seen it. I can’t say that I watch it very often," admitted the 37-year-old politician Thursday to The Advocate after a town hall meeting. "That’s something [my husband] Chasten would be more attuned to than I would."
RuPaul's Drag Race — a VH1 reality competition of drag performers — is a popular show among members of the LGBTQ community and their allies. The show has high-profile fans in the political world as well, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi, who made a guest appearance last year in order to encourage fans to vote.
Buttigieg held the meeting at Bar Lubitsch, which is not a gay bar. However, the Russian-themed establishment is located in West Hollywood, which is considered one of the country's major LGBTQ capitals and a place where politicians court the rainbow vote. Just down Santa Monica Boulevard from Buttigieg's evening meeting, many gay bars were hosting their weekly Drag Race viewing parties.
Buttigieg — whose Sunday CNN town hall at South by Southwest made headlines after the politician called Vice President Mike Pence “the cheerleader of the porn star presidency” — drew his own crowd to Bar Lubitsch. Many attendees were gay men, but there was a sizable show of female supporters as well. The back room of the free event was so packed that many people stood in an adjoining room, where audio of the town hall was piped in.
At the meeting, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., addressed how he once struggled with his sexuality. His career goals of being in the military and holding public office seemed to him, when he was a young man, to require a lifelong tenure in the closet.
"I don’t like admitting this, but there was a time in my life when I would have given anything not to be gay. If you would have given me a pill, I would have taken it," Buttigieg told the crowd.
"Thank god there is no pill," he added to the applause of the room, "because the best thing in my life is my marriage."
Buttigieg told The Advocate that "my marriage to my husband" is the aspect of his queer identity that he is most proud of. "Maybe that sounds like kind of a conservative answer, but it means a lot to me," he said.
Buttigieg came out in an essay for the South Bend Tribune in 2015. He married his partner, Chasten — who took Buttigieg's last name — in 2018. He is a Harvard graduate, a Rhodes scholar, and a Navy veteran.
When asked by The Advocate what he would tell queer critics who might find him heteronormative, Buttigieg said, "I realized early on in my life that I was different. It took me a very long time to acknowledge who I was even to myself, let alone to others. But I am who I am and I’m proud of who I am. And I want to acknowledge and support everyone else who is coming to terms with who they are."
"I don’t know if it makes sense to ask questions about how gay is gay enough," the presidential hopeful continued. "All I know is that I’m gonna be true to myself and hope everyone else is empowered to do the same."
Mainstream appeal is helpful for a candidate running for national office — particularly for one vying to become the first gay and first millennial president. And Buttigieg is attracting supporters from the LGBTQ community, as well. Among those in the crowd at the town hall was Billy Eichner, who said he was "a fan of Mayor Pete."
The gay comedian did not yet give an endorsement of the Hoosier, but he did offer words of praise.
"I think he’s bringing a very distinctive tone and for lack of a better word, style, to the conversation and to the election," said Eichner, who described Buttigieg "as grounded, down to earth, relatable, and very universal."
"I think he can speak to a lot of different types of Americans and a lot of different corners of the country in an equally effective way," Eichner said. "And I don’t know all the candidates running, although I might like them personally, are as effective at doing that. I think some of them do. But I think he’s really good at it."
Gay Olympian Greg Louganis was also in attendance. He too described Buttigieg as "down to earth."
"I was really impressed with what he had to say," said Louganis, who praised his stances on LGBTQ rights (Buttigieg supports the Equality Act), education (Buttigieg supports public education — and he criticized Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for not), and climate change (he's a believer). "Those are things we need to look forward to and we need to do something now," Louganis said.
Would Louganis vote for him? "If the polls were today, yes, definitely," he said.
Watch the town hall meeting below.