It’s About Time

Pete Buttigieg.
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Pete Buttigieg makes history as first gay cabinet nominee

Nearly a year ago in Des Moines, Pete Buttigieg hugged his husband onstage after his win in the Iowa caucuses made him the first openly LGBTQ candidate to earn delegates toward a major political party’s presidential nomination.

Last month, reported USA Today, he made history again as the first openly gay man to be nominated to a Cabinet role, with President-elect Joe Biden tapping Buttigieg last month as his pick for U.S. Transportation secretary.

As Buttigieg accepted the nomination, he recalled how as a 17 year old in Indiana, he watched the experience of James Hormel, who President Bill Clinton nominated as ambassador to Luxembourg in 1998—an appointment Senate Republicans balked at for two years in protest.

“I can remember watching the news… (and) seeing a story about an appointee of President Clinton named to be an ambassador attacked and denied a vote in the Senate because he was gay—ultimately able to serve only by a recess appointment,” he said. “And I learned something about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed to belong. But just as important, I saw how those limits could be challenged.”

“ … I learned something about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed to belong. But just as important, I saw how those limits could be challenged.”

Two decades later, he said, he thought about whether other teens might be watching now, wondering whether and where they belonged in the world—“or even in their own family. And I’m thinking about the message that today’s announcement is sending to them.”

Buttigieg, 38, would also be the first millennial Cabinet member, representing a demographic more likely to identify as LGBTQ compared with older Americans. About a fifth of millennials identify as LGBTQ, compared with 7% of Boomers, according to a 2017 GLAAD survey, reported USA Today.

“This will be a historic milestone for LGBTQ visibility,” said GLAAD president/CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement posted on Twitter, noting that should the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor be confirmed by the Senate, he would become the first openly gay Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.

Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal, called Buttigieg’s nomination a landmark accomplishment.

“If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu,” Jennings said in an interview, noting that gay Americans died by the tens of thousands without high-level representation during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. “Now we have someone at the table to make sure our community does not get ignored, and who literally is there to make sure the trains run on time.”