Pete Buttigieg has focused heavily on his background when stumping across the nation, touting his identity as a younger voice in the Democratic party, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, and the hands-on mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Now the openly gay White House hopeful will return to Nevada to spotlight the history-making potential of his candidacy, headlining on Saturday a key gathering of LGBTQ leaders in the important early caucus state.
“For far too long, LGBTQ people have had to fear that their dreams and their identities are mutually exclusive. We’ve had to see our rights and dignity debated by government bodies that don’t include our voices,” Sarah McBride, the Human Rights Campaign’s national press secretary, told CBS News.
“To see an openly LGBTQ candidate running for president is moving and it’s powerful for many LGBTQ people across the country,” McBride added.
Buttigieg will deliver remarks at the Human Rights Campaign’s 14th annual gala in Las Vegas, the first presidential candidate to do so in the history of the event.
“He is putting a new face on gay America and that face is coming in people’s living rooms. And he’s in a lot of ways the all-American boy,” said Annise Parker, president and CEO of the Victory Fund and Victory Institute.
“What you want your son to grow up to be: thoughtful, and polite, and smart, and served his country, and dedicated public servant. Goes to church, rescues dogs. And he’s married,” Parker told CBS News.
Buttigieg’s address is the latest bid by a Democratic contender to court the influential LGBTQ civil rights organization. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker spoke in March at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual dinner in Los Angeles. Former Vice President Joe Biden headlined the group’s national dinner in 2018.
But as the candidate looks to break out from a crowded field, Nevada’s LGBTQ community could be a unique opportunity for the South Bend mayor.
Of all states, only Oregon’s LGBTQ community outranks Nevada as a share of total population. And Nevada scores well on the Human Rights Campaign’s State Equality Index, an assessment of statewide policies affecting LGBTQ equality. According to data compiled by the Human Rights Campaign before the 2016 presidential election, there are over 93,000 LGBTQ potential voters over 18 years old in Nevada.
“I absolutely do believe that Nevada has become a more open, more accepting, and more friendly place for people in the LGBTQIA space,” Joe Oddo, president of The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada and a vocal supporter of Buttigieg, told CBS News.
“Nevada seems to be leading the way, with our state assembly and getting provisions passed in our constitution through elections, that make Nevada a home where LGBTQIA people can live as their authentic selves,” Oddo added.
“It’s important that he campaign in states with good laws on the books for the LGBT community,” Parker said, “but, it is actually even more important that he campaign in places where we still can be actively discriminated against it.”
While potentially an advantage, Buttigieg’s identity far from guarantees a sweep in the first-in-the-West caucus state. Chris Miller, the first openly gay chair of Clark County’s Democratic Party, endorsed Kamala Harris in late April. And openly gay state Assemblyman Nelson Araujo failed to unseat the state’s Republican secretary of state in 2018, in a year when Democrats swept other elections across the state.
Oddo doubts those who connect Araujo’s sexual orientation to his loss, but plans to celebrate Buttigieg’s candidacy regardless of his prospects come February 22, 2020.
“On Saturday, I’m going to be at a gala watching the first openly gay candidate for president. What that means to me, personally, is that I can look up the stage and say, ‘no longer is the person that I love going to define what I’m capable of,’” Oddo said.
“I’ll always know, and I feel it right now before it’s even happened, an immense joy and fondness in being out,” Oddo added. “That being gay is no longer something that is going to hold me back.”
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