by Darren Main
Some members of the queer community support Pete Buttigieg for president. Others don’t care for his policy proposals or his fundraising. Fair enough… But there is also a small but very vocal minority of queer activists who believe Pete Buttigieg is not gay enough. And no, I’m not making this up.
Their basic concern seems to be that he is a privileged white man and therefore cannot truly represent other members of the queer community. And that when he was still in the closet, he was able to blend into the straight world more easily than others and therefore he doesn’t really know what it is like to be queer. In essence, he had it too easy and is simply not gay enough.
As a privileged white gay man, I have no idea what it’s like to be a lesbian, but I cried when Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet publicly in 1997. I also don’t know what it’s like to be transgender, yet I cried when Caitlyn Jenner came out as a trans woman in 2015. I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color, but I cried when Lil Nas X came out in 2019.
I can never know what it’s like to be something I’m not and to pretend otherwise would be arrogant. But like them, I do understand the freedom that comes with coming out—of no longer living in fear. Of choosing the life you want to live rather than having it dictated by the fear and ignorance of others.
The queer movement has always been about inclusion, not exclusion. This has always been our greatest strength. We have never asked anyone to be “gay enough” to march in our parade because we understood that together we were strong and divided we were vulnerable.
The beautiful thing about being queer is that, once you come out, you get to be yourself—you get to have your own unique experience. And even if your family rejects you, the broader queer community will celebrate you for being true to yourself.
Sometimes one’s truth aligns a little more closely with heterosexual norms. People choose to get married and have children, for example. For other people their truth does not conform very easily with traditional straight norms.
That rainbow flag we wave so freely in Pride parades is supposed to represent this diversity. To say Pete Buttigieg or anyone else is not queer enough is the equivalent of saying certain contingents should not be allowed to march in our parade.
Every one of us has had unique experiences. Those experiences, even the painful ones, forge us into who we are. When anyone is courageous enough to stand in their truth, and come out of the closet we should celebrate that. And we should celebrate not just for them, but for the message it sends to closeted people everywhere.
There are kids (and adults too) still living in the closet. Afraid and believing, falsely, that they are the only ones that don’t seem to fit in. Some fear for their lives and others fear for their souls. Repeatedly they are told that being queer is wrong or sinful. That being queer is a sickness or mental health issue, or that being queer is just a phase. This toxic messaging keeps people living in fear because they believe they will not be accepted if they come out.
Each time they see a friend, family member, coworker celebrity or political leader come out and live in their truth, the fear is lessened. Each time someone comes out and models the freedom on the other side of the closet door, we give other people permission to take that courageous step as well.
Today closeted people get to turn on the television and see a gay man running for president. He’s not running because he’s gay, he just happens to be a gay man and a politician who has an actual shot at becoming the president. Wow, game changer!
They expect to see religious and political conservatives attacking this politician saying horrible things about him. This is tragic, but expected.
But instead of a counterpoint to this horrible messaging, they see members of the queer community telling him he’s simply not gay enough, or his gay male white privilege is somehow disqualifying.
You should not vote for Pete Buttigieg because he is a gay man. You should vote for him only if you think he will do a good job as president.
But the notion that we should show up with picket signs because his queerness does not meet some sort of queer purity test is dangerous. It inhibits our ability to welcome others as they peek out of that closet door. And it prevents all of us from moving forward in our ongoing quest for equality.