OPINION: How Pete Buttigieg betrays the LGBTQ+ community

A silhouette of a man with a rainbow outline.
(Natalie Bauer • The Student Life)

Pete Buttigieg has recently gained momentum and is one of the leading Democratic candidates in the 2020 presidential primary race. As the election’s poster child for progressive neoliberalism, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana has branded himself as a fresh, young millennial candidate. 

Yet, Buttigieg seems to be more robot than human. His sparkling clean facade and exhaustive list of accomplishments hide the fact that his policies and ideologies do not reflect compassion and empathy for many of America’s most vulnerable populations. Buttigieg is an openly gay man, yet he fails to provide solutions or draw attention to the most pressing issues that the LGBTQ+ community is facing. 

LGBTQ+ populations, especially queer and transgender people of color, are among the most vulnerable populations when it comes to accessing proper healthcare. We are more likely to suffer from mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, we are more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections and we are more likely to live in poverty

All of these factors demonstrate a need for robust healthcare to meet all of our medical needs and facilitate access to healthcare. 

Yet, Buttigieg refuses to create universal healthcare, distances himself from Medicare for All and ridicules more progressive candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for their healthcare plans. He fails to understand how universal healthcare would monumentally improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people, how it would increase the accessibility for gender transition procedures and provide mental healthcare for millions who need it. 

Healthcare is also vital for preventing and treating HIV and AIDS. Access to pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs is the best way to decrease the spread of HIV, yet there are barriers to accessibility — barriers which could be improved by universal healthcare.

Buttigieg is the embodiment of the limitations of representation and the dangers of queer assimilation. When queer people desperately try to conform to the heteronormative structures that have never welcomed us, we are not liberating ourselves, but rather making ourselves more palatable to cisgender straight people at the expense of our lives. 

LGBTQ+ people deserve to belong. We deserve to be welcomed into the institutions that have rejected us for centuries. The problem is that Buttigieg is arguing that our rights should be derived from the very institutions we have only recently gained limited access to, such as marriage, religion and the job market. 

Seeking liberation and inclusion in a system that is rooted in our (and everyone’s) institutional and economic exploitation is unacceptable. LGBTQ+ people, especially the most vulnerable among us, will never thrive in a country fueled by capitalism, mass incarceration, the military-industrial complex and imperialism. 

Yet, as a veteran and former employee at consulting firm McKinsey, Buttigieg fails to see this and would rather we focus on superficial surface level forms of “liberation.” His concern and care for people within his own community is limited and those limitations can be devastating for many.

Did Buttigieg care about the queer bodies the U.S. military treated as less-than-human when he was deployed in Afghanistan? Or was he simply focused on how liberating it is for LGBTQ+ people to be able to openly take part in a violent imperialist project that is the U.S. military?

Did he care about the queer bodies Immigration and Customs Enforcement violently detained, deported and starved when McKinsey helped the agency cut funds towards food for those in detention? I suppose, if those migrants had come to this country “legally,” they could look forward to marrying whoever they want, while being exploited for their labor and lacking access to healthcare. 

As feminist queer scholar Barbara Smith wrote in The New York Times, “Gaining rights for some while ignoring the violation and suffering of others does not lead to justice. … Unless we eradicate the systemic oppressions that undermine the lives of the majority of [LGBTQ+] people, we will never achieve queer liberation.” 

Voters are aware of the failures of Buttigieg’s progressive neoliberalism — it’s clear in the way Buttigieg is struggling to capture the African American/black vote. With a strikingly low two percent of the black vote and five percent of the Latinx vote, minorities can clearly see how Buttigieg is recycling the same policies that have failed to help them. 

None of this is to say it is not monumental that an openly gay man is gaining so much support in a primary presidential election. This would have been inconceivable even a decade ago. The problem also does not have to do with Buttigieg being “gay enough” but rather his insistence that LGBTQ+ people are like “everyone else,” as if this is a necessary condition to be treated with dignity and respect. 

We need a candidate that pursues a policy platform that acknowledges and seeks to change the oppressive structures that have withstood years of neoliberal reform. Queer and trans people of color cannot afford to have a Buttigieg presidency (or anyone like him) out of blind loyalty to any queer person; our lives are at stake.

Anais Rivero PZ ’22 is a political studies major from Miami, Florida and part of the LGBTQ (Let’s Get Buttigieg To Quit) movement. She will be voting for Bernie Sanders in this primary election and suggests you do too.

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