Gay South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg is surging in the polls and surprising many with his fundraising prowess. But some corners of the internet are suggesting that he's either not gay enough or not diverse enough as a candidate since he's a white male.
The whispers reached a crescendo with an article late last week from Slate, in which writer Christina Cauterucci discussed that argument with the incendiary headline of "Is Pete Buttigieg Just Another White Male Candidate or Does His Gayness Count as Diversity?" The headline has since been changed ("In a Diverse Candidate Field, How Is Pete Buttigieg's Sexuality Factoring Into His Appeal?") but the subjectively objectionable points remain.
"Most people who are aware of [Buttigieg's] candidacy probably know he's gay, but his every appearance doesn't activate the 'hey, that's that homosexual gentleman' response in the average brain," Cauterucci says. "That doesn't mean he's not gay enough -- there's really no such measure. It just means that he might not be up against quite the same hurdles that a gay candidate without such sturdy ties to straight culture would be."
Cauterucci closes by writing, "Straight white male voters will likely find it easier to see themselves in Buttigieg than in the women or people of color in the 2020 field. They'll be right to do so: Buttigieg's life experiences -- how he's been perceived, how he's gotten paid, what he's believed himself capable of, what opportunities have been available to him -- almost certainly have far more in common with those of Sanders and Biden than those of Harris, Booker, and Warren."
Cauterucci, a queer woman, goes to great lengths to describe the complications of code-switching and how one handles the "appearance" of gayness (she's convinced Buttigieg doesn't seem gay to most, even though his husband is omnipresent); she also stresses that homophobia still exists. But what may be most galling in her argument is simply the question whether Buttigieg's life has ever been complicated by being gay.
"So, is Buttigieg a run-of-the-mill white male candidate, or does his sexuality set him apart? That mammoth question can be broken down into smaller ones that get at why diversity matters: Has Buttigieg faced setbacks or barriers to success because he's gay?"
As Cauterucci mentions in her article, Buttigieg came out while mayor of South Bend, something a straight politician never has to do. Buttigieg took an enormous risk in doing that, especially in a state that elected an avowed homophobe like Mike Pence as governor and sent him to Congress.
Lucas Grindley, The Advocate's former editor in chief and current CEO of the nonprofit NextCity, explained in a lengthy and well-received Twitter thread that questioning whether a gay man ever found homophobia a roadblock is absolutely wrongheaded. LGBTQ journalists like HuffPost editors Lydia Polgreen and Curtis Wong, and current Advocate editor in chief Zach Stafford -- all people of color -- highlighted Grindley's thread.