Whether Sen. Amy Klobuchar believes it or not, Mayor Pete Buttigieg — a man, as she is wont to point out — is at a disadvantage compared to his female democratic rivals.
Among Democrats, 17% said they would not back a gay candidate for president, according to a Gallup survey released in April. Compare that to a Gallup poll conducted four years earlier that found 92% of all Americans (including Republicans) would vote for a female candidate.
Put plainly, Buttigieg is not the beneficiary of sexism. Rather, he faces a deeper prejudice no other candidates face. So, Sen. Klobuchar, next time you’re tempted to play the gender card with America’s first viable gay candidate (as you did again during last week’s debate), put that in your salad and comb it.
Coincidentally making news with this particular candidate is Buttigieg’s “lack of connection with South Carolina’s African-American community.” If you suggest that homophobia may play a part in that, be prepared for the race card.
New York Times columnist Charles Blow played it when he called suggestions of black homophobia a “disgusting, racist trope.” Candidate Kamala Harris agrees. But like Klobuchar’s gender card, the race card denies reality.
Data from 2017, from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, found that blacks lag behind both whites and Hispanics in their acceptance of gay people.
Much of this lack of acceptance is delivered from the pulpit, where worshipers are admonished to love the sinner but hate the sin. And while white evangelical Protestants are the most anti-gay demographic of all, they will overwhelmingly support Trump’s reelection no matter who the Democratic candidate turns out to be.
The GOP’s rhetoric and platforms make clear that a gay presidential candidate is a nonstarter in their party. Republicans have courted anti-gay white evangelicals since the “family values” days, and today the message remains that gays don’t belong in the Grand Old Party, even with Trump’s cynical bid at inclusion after 49 people were killed by a Muslim ISIS supporter during Latin Night at an Orlando gay bar.
Combine the various soundbites from left and right — he’s only on the stage because he’s a man, he fails to connect with black voters, let’s keep the family strong — and you can discern a subtext that our country won’t elect a gay candidate, not even a white, male, Christian one.
Not that any of the Democratic candidates would have the bad manners to express such a sentiment out loud. Where it is being discussed openly and enthusiastically is among Trump supporters as a potential wedge issue to exploit in the fall.
What to do?
The Democratic party needs to loudly, frequently and unconditionally affirm its commitment to civil rights for gay people (including at the federal level), and must challenge anti-gay bigotry no matter what color it comes in or what religion it wraps itself in. Failing to do so may mean that Democratic primary voters — who would otherwise support a young veteran — will not, for the perceived greater good of denying a second term to Trump, a literal flag-hugger with five military deferments to his credit.
Failing to do so means Democrats give a pass to homophobia, as happened when even the sainted Paul Wellstone joined 84 other senators in support of the Defense of Marriage Act, and then had the nerve to attend a memorial service for Matthew Shepherd. Voting against DOMA was the Senate’s only African-American member, Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, who said in 1996: “I hope that every person on this floor who is going to look at and vote on this bill considers for a moment what the judgment of history might be if 50 years from now their grandchildren look at their debates and look at their words in support of this mean-spirited legislation, and consider the judgment that will be cast upon them then.”
Democrats must recognize that there are a lot of gay Americans who are truly and genuinely inspired by our country’s first gay candidate for president, just as there were a lot of black Americans who were truly and genuinely inspired by Barack Obama’s campaign. Dismiss the gay candidate as only being where he is because of sexism, as Klobuchar did — or deny the fact that he faces real bigotry like Obama faced during his campaigns — and you may end up with a number of disillusioned gay Democrats and independents who will need convincing to vote next November.
Brian Malloy is a writer in Minneapolis.