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Is the USA ready for a Gay President?

Don Rose 11 April 2019 No Comment

Lori Lightfoot’s overwhelming Chicago mayoral victory and the recent rise to prominence of Mayor Pete Buttigieg as a presidential candidate has set me thinking that we may be in the midst of a new era for gay politicians–and yes, a gay president could be elected.

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   I’m not predicting it yet, and this is not an endorsement of Buttigieg, but an appraisal as I made earlier  of Kirsten Gillibrand–and will make of others in weeks and months to come. However, it is quite possible that being LGBTQ+ may no longer be an impediment to gaining the top office.

    A recent poll showed that 69 percent of the population would have no problem with a gay president. That number obviously includes many Republicans.  Sure, it’s easy to dismiss the result because respondents might well hide their true beliefs in order to give a socially acceptable answer. But the fact that it is considered to be the socially acceptable answer is significant in itself.

   Older social impediments have fallen through the years. Time was a Catholic was considered unelectable as prez.  JFK smashed that one. A divorced man? Tell it to Ronald Reagan. Black? Remember that guy with the funny name? A woman? Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million.

   We have two-term Wisconsin Senator Tami Baldwin who was the first open lesbian elected to congress in 1998. There are at least 10 openly gay people serving there today, including four elected last year–one of them an intersectional Native American woman from Kansas, no less.

   Now comes this young, gay, married mayor with the unpronounceable name from a smallish town in conservative Indiana–near the nation’s best known, ultra-macho Catholic university–who vaulted over a half dozen nationally known contenders to become a top-tier candidate.

   At the moment he may be just a curiosity, but attention must be paid. He is great in TV interviews, giving smart, straightforward answers to complex questions without the bluster of Bernie Sanders or the intense emotionality of Elizabeth Warren. He’s an Afghanistan war vet and an intellectual the match of Warren–arguably the leading intellectual of the Democratic presidential field.

    He has some traits in common with Lightfoot, whose thoughtful, low key stump style was often criticized for being…well, too low key. Somehow people took to it–maybe just for its novelty. A candidate who neither preached nor shrieked. But she carried overwhelmingly in African American, Latinx and conservative white wards thought to be hostile to gays.

   Let’s remember, the gay liberation movement, which culminated in same-sex marriage becoming the law of the land, was the fastest-growing, widest-spreading social movement of my lifetime, which includes both the civil rights and women’s liberation movements. It was only 15 years ago when G.W. Bush’s campaign put up dozens of anti-LGBTQ marriage referenda on state ballots to stir up the right-wing vote. Soon they discovered that even right wingers could be queer or have some in their families.

    Do keep your eye on Buttigieg, say I–an open heterosexual–who can barely pronounce the guy’s name, let alone pronounce LGBTQ.

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Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

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