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Watch: Buttigieg Speculates There Have Likely Been Gay U.S. Presidents

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Jun 17, 2019
Openly gay Democratic 2020 hopeful Pete Buttigieg
Openly gay Democratic 2020 hopeful Pete Buttigieg  (Source:Screencap/"Axios on HBO"/YouTube)

South Bend, Indiana mayor and Democratic 2020 presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, in an interview with Mike Allen on "Axios on HBO," offered the speculation that if he were to be elected president of the United States, he might not actually be the first gay man to hold the office.

Listing various slanders and mischaracterizations that Republicans have used against Democratic presidential candidates, Allen noted that, according to the GOP, "John Kerry was a 'traitor' in Vietnam... Barack Obama was a 'Muslim.' "

"If you were to win the nomination," Allen continued, "they'll say you're too young; too liberal; too gay to be Commander in Chief."

Though the claims against Kerry and Obama were fabrications, Allen noted that there is some truth to the things he suggested the GOP might say about Buttigieg. "You are young, you are liberal, you are gay," Allen said, going on to ask how Buttigieg would answer to attempts to slander him based upon those facts.

"I'll respond by explaining where I want to lead this country," Buttigieg answered.

"People will elect the person who will make the best president," Buttigieg continued. "And we have had excellent presidents who had been young. We have had excellent presidents who have been liberal. I would imagine we have had excellent presidents who were gay; we just didn't know which ones."

"You believe that we've had a gay Commander in Chief," Allen reiterated.

"I mean, statistically, it's almost certain," Buttigieg replied.

The current president is the 45th to serve in the office. Guesses as to how large a share LGBTQ people comprise of the general population vary widely; in some estimations, sexual minorities make up between 2 — 4% of the population, while other estimates claim 10% or even higher. One recent study went so far as to suggest that virtually all people are bisexual.

Business Insider, in covering the story, referenced a 2017 Gallup estimate that places the prevalence of LGBTQ people in the general population at 4.5%.

When it comes to gays in the Oval Office, that question has proven controversial. As USA Today noted in an article about Buttigieg's remarks, some have pointed to the 15th president of the United States, James Buchanan, as having possibly been gay. Such claims rest on Buchanan's lifelong bachelorhood and his exceptionally close relationship with another male politician, William Rufus King. Even in Buchanan's time, insinuations about the men's relationship and sexuality circulated. King died several years before Buchanan was elected to his single term in office. Buchanan's presidency is faulted by modern historians on the basis that Buchanan did not mend differences between the Northern and Southern states, despite having been a "dough face" (a Northerner sympathetic to the South's stance on slavery), with the Civil War being the result of those tensions.

Buchanan's immediate successor, Abraham Lincoln, has also been suggested to have been gay, based in part upon his close friendship with a man called Joshua Fry Speed, but no definitive evidence for this has been presented. Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, had four children.

Buttigieg made no specific claims about which presidents might have been gay, saying, "My gaydar even doesn't work that well in the present, let alone retroactively," he quipped, according to the Business Insider article.

Were Buttigieg to be elected, he would certainly be the first openly gay candidate to attain the office. Though closeted when he first won election as mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg had come out by the time he successfully ran for reelection and has repeatedly expressed the view that there is no reason to think that an openly gay candidate could not be elected president. Far from sidelining his husband Chasten, Buttigieg has had Chasten join him on stage on several occasions, and the married couple was even featured together on a recent TIME Magazine cover.

Watch the "Axios on HBO" clip below.


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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