Pete Buttigieg made history again Tuesday, becoming the first out member of the LGBTQ+ community to be a Senate-confirmed Cabinet member.
The Senate confirmed Buttigieg, who is gay, to be secretary of Transportation by a vote of 86-13. At 39, he is the youngest Transportation secretary and one of the youngest Cabinet members ever, and the first one from the millennial generation.
He is the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and he sought the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. He was the first out presidential aspirant to appear in a major party’s debate, and he made history by sharing his coming-out story in that forum. He won the most delegates in the Iowa caucus in January but dropped out of the race in March and then endorsed Joe Biden. He went on to work on Biden’s transition team. Before going into politics, he worked for a consulting firm and served in the military in the Iraq War.
He has spoken about when, as a teenager, he saw President Clinton’s ambassadorial nominee James Hormel denied Senate confirmation because he was gay. “I watched that story, and I learned about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed to belong,” Buttigieg observed in December, when his nomination was announced. “And just as important, I saw how those limits could be challenged.” In his confirmation hearing, he introduced and praised his husband, Chasten Buttigieg.
During Donald Trump’s administration, Richard Grenell, an out gay man, was acting director of national intelligence, a Cabinet-level position, but because he held the post on an interim basis, he did not require Senate confirmation. He had been Senate-confirmed, however, to his previous post as ambassador to Germany.
Buttigieg is "bringing his political celebrity and legion of super fans to a mammoth agency that's not used to headlines," Politico notes. He became well-known nationally during his presidential run and has a strong Twitter following. So while he does not have extensive experience in transportation, he will likely be able to raise the profile and heighten the priority of the department's projects.
"One of his primary tasks will be shepherding the transportation pieces of Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure vision, in whatever form it might take," Politico adds. "He will be aided by deputy secretary-designate Polly Trottenberg, a DOT veteran from Obama’s first term who spent the intervening seven years running the New York City DOT."
While his predecessor, Elaine Chao, was largely unavailable to the media, Buttigieg appears frequently on cable news programs and will probably continue to do so.
“He is very unique in the sense that he brings a whole group of people from all over the country that got to know him when he ran for president,” Ray LaHood, who was President Obama’s first Transportation secretary, told Politico. “They believe in him; they believe in his leadership. He starts out with a huge, huge advantage.”
LGBTQ+ groups were thrilled at Buttigieg’s confirmation. “Congratulations to Secretary Pete Buttigieg on his historic confirmation,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a press release. “This confirmation breaks through a barrier that has existed for too long; where LGBTQ identity served as an impediment to nomination or confirmation at the highest level of government. Let this important moment for our movement serve as a reminder to every LGBTQ young person: you too can serve your country in any capacity you earn the qualifications to hold. President Biden promised to deliver an administration representative of the diversity of this nation, and this confirmation is a significant achievement toward that goal. I look forward to working with Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the entire Biden cabinet.”
“Pete shattered a centuries-old political barrier with overwhelming bipartisan support and that paves the way for more LGBTQ Americans to pursue high-profile appointments,” Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement. “Pete testifying at his confirmation hearing, with his husband looking on, will be among the powerful images that define this unprecedented political moment and will be remembered as a milestone in America’s move toward social justice. While his confirmation is historic, Pete is focused on the difficult task ahead. America is in desperate need of a revitalized transportation effort and his two terms as mayor provide the experience and perspective needed to propose bold solutions. Americans are fortunate to have Pete as their Secretary of Transportation.”
GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis issued this statement: “With the Senate’s approval, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg is making history and moving our country forward as the nation’s first openly LGBTQ Senate-confirmed Cabinet member. His historic confirmation hearing, where he introduced his husband Chasten, was also a milestone for LGBTQ acceptance and representation. The role of Secretary of Transportation requires an innovative thought leader, someone who understands all Americans' needs and has the courage to create and form the road ahead. Secretary Buttigieg’s vision will improve all Americans’ lives and navigate toward needed change to serve communities on the margins. We know he will continue to lead our country's drive for LGBTQ acceptance. Congratulations, Secretary Buttigieg.”
From the Indiana Democratic Party: “It’s no secret Pete Buttigieg loves infrastructure and the ins and outs that come with it. On top of modernizing South Bend’s infrastructure system during his tenure as mayor, the significance of something as simple as an airport has on the Buttigieg family reminds all Hoosiers that our lives depend and rely on our nation having the best infrastructure system possible so that we can live, thrive, and even love while being in transit. The Indiana Democratic Party is proud of Secretary Buttigieg for all the work he’s accomplished for Hoosiers and the achievements he’ll make while leading the Department of Transportation under the Biden-Harris Administration. Buttigieg is a true example of what it means to have all voices — including LGBTQ Americans — at the table, and he’ll be an inspiration for so many who until this moment may have believed certain dreams were not possible.”
From Erin Uritus, CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates: “Pete Buttigieg is very qualified to serve in this position with his accomplishments as mayor of South Bend, his groundbreaking campaign for president, and his dedication to improving infrastructure and rebuilding communities. Today it is even easier for LGBTQ Americans to see ourselves in national leadership. And we look forward to witnessing the power of someone from our own community bringing their full, authentic self into this role. Every workplace deserves out leadership — our federal government is no exception. The Biden-Harris administration deserves praise for continuing to demonstrate that diversity, visibility, and representation matter.”
From the Los Angeles LGBT Center: “The Center looks forward to working with Secretary Buttigieg to ensure that our country’s transportation network advances racial and gender equity in his role as secretary of the department. Public transportation in particular is of critical importance to communities that have long been marginalized by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, and class, and we are optimistic that he will help address these historic inequities. After four years of continuous attempts by the Trump administration to target the LGBTQ community for discrimination, President Biden’s early appointments and actions are a welcome sign that the new administration will seek to reflect the nation's diversity and thereby strengthen the country for all of us.”
From David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition: “It was only fifty years ago that LGBTQ+ people were not permitted to work as civil servants in government. To have an openly gay man lead a government agency, one generation removed from prohibition of civil service for LGBTQ+ people, represents how far our nation has advanced in the pursuit of LGBTQ+ equality.”