“All female athletes want is a fair shot at competition,” a young woman can be heard saying over a video of several athletes preparing to run a race. “But what if that shot was taken away by a competitor who claims to be a girl but was born a boy?”
That controversial digital ad — which then shows a teen boy outrunning his female competitors and shrugging at them with indifference afterwards — is one of three released this week by the American Principles Project, a Virginia-based conservative think tank, and its PAC. The group issued a statement Thursday saying the political ads are part of a $4 million effort to “target persuadable Democrats and independent voters in key swing states.”
Half of the campaign budget will be spent in Michigan, a state Trump won in 2016 but now lags in the polls, and the American Principles Project confirmed it will release ads in Wisconsin “in the coming weeks.” The group said it hopes the Michigan ads draw attention to the support of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., “for policies which would allow biological males to compete in women’s sports and push children into dangerous, life-altering sex-change” procedures.
The two other ads feature Kevin Whitt, a man who says he lived as a woman for 17 years before deciding to detransition. Whitt warns viewers that “treatments to change the gender of a minor are very dangerous and irreversible.”
The Biden and Peters campaigns did not immediately respond to a requests for comment.
National LGBTQ advocacy groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, were quick to denounce the campaign.
“These ads perpetuate dangerous stereotypes, traffic in misinformation, and put the lives of transgender people at risk,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. “Sites and social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook should decline to run them and send a message loud and clear that those who would use their platforms to peddle hate and lies will not be tolerated or validated.”
The Human Rights Campaign also called for social media companies to take down the digital ads, saying they are blatant lies from an “outdated playbook.”
“APP wants a future where LGBTQ people can be fired, denied housing, refused business services or health care solely because of who they are. But they know full well that they’re on the wrong side of this issue and the wrong side of our future.”
Representatives from Facebook and YouTube did not immediately respond to NBC News’ requests for comment regarding the ads.
This is not the first time APP has funded an ad campaign with the hopes of making transgender rights a political wedge issue. Last year, it funded a similar campaign amid the Kentucky governor’s race, though the group’s preferred candidate, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, lost to Democrat Andy Beshear.
As the hearse carrying John Lewis’ body drove through Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood on Wednesday, it made a lengthy and symbolic stop at a rainbow crosswalk as dozens of people gathered on the sidewalk to watch the procession pass.
“It feels very appropriate that that stop was prolonged for John Lewis’ legacy,” Victoria Kirby York of the National LGBTQ Task Forcetold NBC News. “I believe his vocal leadership and support in championing LGBTQ equality — even prior to it becoming a cool thing for people to hop on the bandwagon for — was critical in being able to shift public opinion across the country.”
York added: “He was about civil rights, equality and liberation for everybody. Period. Full stop.”
The stop by Lewis’ motorcade — lasting nearly a minute — was an acknowledgement of his vocal advocacy over the years for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans.
An early advocate
Lewis, who represented Georgia’s 5th Congressional District from 1987 until his death on July 17, did not wait until it was politically safe to stand up for LGBTQ rights.
“This bill is a slap in the face of the Declaration of Independence. It denies gay men and women the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Marriage is a basic human right,” he said. “You cannot tell people they cannot fall in love. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say when people talked about interracial marriage and I quote: ‘Races do not fall in love and get married. Individuals fall in love and get married.’”
DOMA, considered a political compromise at the time, easily passed both the House and Senate and was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in September 1996. It was the law of the land until 2013, when United States v. Windsor chipped away at the heart of the legislation. Same-sex marriage would not be legal across the U.S. until 2015, when the Supreme Court handed down its Obergefell v. Hodges decision.
York said Lewis’ early support for LGBTQ rights was unsurprising, given his activism in the preceding decades.
“When you’ve stared death in the face solely because of the color of your skin, it gives you a different view of justice,” York said, referring to Lewis’ multiple near-death experiences fighting for civil rights, including during the infamous “Bloody Sunday” protest on Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. “He put his body on the line to create the world that we all thought was impossible.”
“John Lewis’ moral compass overruled whatever the stigma of the day was,” she added. “Equality for black people means equality for Black LGBTQ people, and equality for Black LGBTQ people means equality for all LGBTQ people, and I think that was a clear through-line for him.”
A decades-long ally
Lewis would continue to be on the forefront of nearly every major congressional proposal to advance LGBTQ rights.
On Lewis’ congressional website, there is a page dedicated to LGBTQ issues, which prominently features a powerful quote from Lewis.
“I fought too long and too hard to end discrimination based on race and color, to not stand up against discrimination against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters,” it reads. He then goes on to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., with whom he led the movement for racial equality, saying, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Lewis was a co-sponsor or vocal advocate for over a dozen congressional bills that sought to either expand LGBTQ rights or limit anti-LGBTQ discrimination, including the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) and the Respect for Marriage Act.
The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, noted that Lewis worked closely with Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., during the drafting of the Equality Act — which would modify existing civil rights legislation to add protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity— and was a lead sponsor of the legislation.
Following Lewis’ death, Alphonso David, the Human Rights Campaign’s first Black president, called Lewis “a hero and civil rights icon who pushed our country closer to the promise of a more perfect union.”
“Future generations will learn how he faced down discrimination with courage and defiance, boldly challenging the United States to envision a future where every person, no matter their race, sexual orientation or gender identity, has an equal chance at the American Dream,” David said in a statement.
Lewis appeared at an HRC fundraiser in 2016 and told the crowd of mostly LGBTQ people, “You and I are partners.”
“We are part of an ongoing struggle to redeem the soul of America, to help people in this country and around the world come to grips with one simple truth: We are one people,” he added. “We are one family. We are the human family.”
York said she hopes Lewis’ drive to fight for equality — even if not for a group to which he belonged — will inspire others to do the same.
“He gave full-throated, passionate appeals that all of God’s children be treated equally, and that that included LGBTQ people, and that meant so much to me, both in my career as an advocate and advocating for other marginalized communities that I may not identify with, like the transgender community and intersex community,” she said. “He was a powerful example of how we should be doing advocacy at the margins, and I hope every member of Congress has taken a lesson from him.
A changer of hearts and minds
While Lewis’ LGBTQ advocacy undoubtedly changed hearts and minds across demographic spectrums, York, who is Black, said there was a special significance and power in having a straight, cisgender Black man as such a visible ally.
“I think that all of those identities that he carried helped Black fathers, brothers, nephews all across the country learn how to talk and accept their own children, their own relatives who had been hurt by homophobia and transphobia,” she said, adding that he “gave permission for so many others who were potential allies to be able to step out of their fear” and support LGBTQ equality.
“John Lewis is a man of deep faith — no one could question that,” she added. “So for someone who is a man of deep faith to say that LGBTQ people matter, are equal and deserve protection and dignity, that gave other people the language to be able to say the same thing in their families, in their churches, in their homes. I believe that probably saved countless lives.”
In a sobering survey released this month, The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis prevention organization, found that 2 in 5 LGBTQ youth in the U.S. have “seriously considered” suicide in the past year.
“I do believe that those numbers could have been even higher if it wasn’t for the full-throated advocacy that John Lewis gave, and by him doing that, the permission he gave to others to really show up as the fathers that they wanted to be for their children,” she said.
‘Power of his legacy’
In a posthumous op-ed in The New York Times on Thursday, Lewis wrote: “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.”
York said this message underscores the “power of his legacy.”
“We all have the capacity to create change,” she said, adding that Lewis “started as a teenager doing work to bring equality for all people, and that’s something that our youth should be excited about.”
“These protests and rallies over the course of this summer are moving this country forward,” she added. “If we can just stay in it together — despite hurt feelings, despite trauma, despite the healing we’ve got to do together, despite our blindness to other people’s experiences — if we remain open to it all, we can create a country we can be proud of for our children and our children’s children.”
York said this coming together of different groups is also part of Lewis’ legacy.
“It hasn’t been about one group over the other,” she said. “It’s been about all of us getting across the bridge together.”
One of the most widely held myths about the fight for LGBTQ equality is that it started at New York City’s Stonewall Inn during the summer of 1969. That uprising, while pivotal, was in reality preceded by a grassroots “homophile” movement that has been largely overlooked.
“Every single person who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community can thank Frank for for developing what we now celebrate each and every June, which is Pride.”
Eric Cervini, a historian, is trying to change that. His first book, “The Deviant’s War,” documents the efforts of gay activists during the late 1950s and ‘60s to plant the seeds that would eventually lead to decades of progress for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
While Cervini notes that his book is not a biography, its central character is Frank Kameny, whose life and activism is the thread throughout its nearly 400 exhaustively researched pages. Though Kameny is not as well known as later activists like Harvey Milk or Marsha P. Johnson, his contributions to LGBTQ rights are at least — if arguably not more — important.
“Everyone should know his name,” Cervini said of Kameny. “Every single person who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community can thank Frank for for developing what we now celebrate each and every June, which is Pride.”
“The Deviant’s War” started as Cervini’s senior thesis at Harvard, where he graduated from in 2014, and continued into his PhD dissertation at the University of Cambridge, where he received his doctorate last year. A Texas native, Cervini, who came out in high school, said he “had not the slightest clue about what queer history was or who was important” while growing up.
“So much of this history just is not taught in high schools, very little of it is taught in colleges and so much of it is also hidden,” he said.
Cervini said his first introduction to LGBTQ history came from watching the 2008 film “Milk” starring Sean Penn while in high school.
“Starting from that moment, I said, “I want to learn more about my own past and my queer ancestors.’”
He initially set out to write about Milk for his undergraduate senior thesis but found that all the primary source materials were in San Francisco. But then in Harvard’s library database, he stumbled upon a name he had never seen before: Frank Kameny.
“He was so instrumental in those early years, and he had his hand in every part of the pre-Stonewall gay rights movement,” Cervini said. “Historians knew about him, they had long identified him as the ‘grandfather of the modern gay rights movement,’ but there hadn’t been any book written about him.”From astronomer to warrior
The meat of “The Deviant’s War” starts in late 1957, when Kameny, then a 32-year-old, Harvard-educated, Hawaii-based astronomer for the U.S. Defense Department, was summoned to the Army Map Service headquarters in Maryland and asked a question that would drastically alter the trajectory of his life: “Information has come to the attention of the U.S. Civil Service Commission that you are a homosexual. What comment, if any, do you care to make?”
It was a time when psychiatrists deemed homosexuality a “sociopathic personality disturbance” and consensual same-sex activity could be punished by “sexual psychopath laws,” and Kameny was fired, just two months after the launch of Sputnik. He would never work for the U.S. government again.
“He had lost absolutely everything,” Cervini said. But unlike most of the thousands of gay and lesbian federal employees dismissed during the so-called Lavender Scare, Kameny decided to fight back. So the end of his government career marked the beginning of over a half-century of activism.by TaboolaSponsored Stories
But Cervini notes that “The Deviant’s War” covers just a part of Kameny’s activism — from his government dismissal in the late ‘50s to just after Stonewall. To fully cover his contributions to the LGBTQ movement, Cervini added, would take volumes and much longer than the seven years he put into writing the book.
In just the early years of his activism, Kameny covered significant ground: He sued the federal government in what’s considered the first civil rights claim based on sexual orientation to be brought to the Supreme Court; he co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, one of the earliest LGBTQ rights groups; and he was among a small group that held what is thought to be the first gay demonstration outside the White House. Not long after, he decided to take on the American Psychiatric Association and its classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder.
After more than five decades of activism, Kameny died at the age of 86 on Oct. 11, 2011. His death fittingly coincided with National Coming Out Day, which has been celebrated annually since 1987.
While Kameny is undoubtedly the star of Cervini’s debut book, we also meet a number of other pre-Stonewall activists who were crucial to the LGBTQ rights movement, including Barbara Gittings, Kay Tobin Lahusen, Ernestine Eppenger (a.k.a. Ernestine Eckstein) and Randy Wicker. We also find out about the early contributions of some more well-known names, like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Riveraand Bayard Rustin.
“Even though Frank’s photo is on the spine of the book, we’re using him as a lens for understanding not just his life but all the different diverse lives within the early movement that then allowed all of our success much later to occur,” Cervini said.An activism ‘guidebook’
While his book is focused on the mid-20th century, Cervini said there are many lessons in it today for today’s activists.
“It really is a guidebook for how activism works and also what doesn’t work when we’re dealing with an oppressive government,” he said. “Once again we’re fighting a lot of the same battles, and I think looking backwards and searching for templates for how we can combat persecution effectively and inclusively is so important, and that’s what I hope to do with this book.”
Another important lesson he hopes readers take away from “The Deviant’s War” is that Kameny and a number of his contemporaries “stood on the backs of those with the least to lose,” namely those who were not, like Kameny, white cisgender men.
“We are under attack once again,” he said, citing the transgender military ban and state-level policies pertaining to transgender youth. “Now we all have a moral obligation to be continuing the fight after the marriage successes, and after an openly gay viable presidential candidate. Now it’s our turn to return the favor and to fight for those with the least to lose.”
For today’s activists who are “continuing the fight” for LGBTQ equality, Cervini said they should recognize that they are currently making history and should follow the lead of Kameny, who saved tens of thousands of documents that enabled Cervini to tell his story.
“We need to make sure we’re not throwing out our emails when we’re planning marches and demonstrations against the current regime,” he said.
“The Deviant’s War” is available starting Tuesday, June 2, and Cervini will be participating in a virtual book tour through June 6, with guests including screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for “Milk,” and Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims. Cervini also shares LGBTQ history lessons regularly on his Instagram account.
Two of the largest banks in the U.S. say they will stop donating millions of dollars to Florida’s private school voucher program after a newspaper investigation found that some of the program’s beneficiaries discriminate against LGBTQ students.
In a statement to NBC News and CNBC on Wednesday evening, Wells Fargo confirmed that it would no longer participate.
“We have reviewed this matter carefully and have decided to no longer support Step Up for Students,” the San Francisco-based bank said of the voucher program. “All of us at Wells Fargo highly value diversity and inclusion, and we oppose discrimination of any kind.”
In a tweet to a Florida lawmaker Tuesday, Fifth Third Bank, based in Cincinnati, said it has told officials with the voucher program that it will also stop participating.
“We have communicated with program officials that we will not be contributing again until more inclusive policies have been adopted by all participating schools to protect the sexual orientation of all our students,” the bank tweeted to Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, the state’s first LGBTQ Latino legislator.
The banks’ decisions come less than a week after an Orlando Sentinel investigation found that 156 private Christian schools with anti-gay views educated more than 20,000 students across the state with tuition paid for by Florida taxpayers.
“Florida’s scholarship programs, often referred to as school vouchers, sent more than $129 million to these religious institutions,” the Sentinel reported on Jan. 23. “That means at least 14 percent of Florida’s nearly 147,000 scholarship students last year attended private schools where homosexuality was condemned or, at a minimum, unwelcome.”
The Sentinel investigation found that 83 of the 156 schools with anti-gay views do not permit LGBTQ students to attend and that some of the schools prohibit students whose parents are gay.
In a separate post published Tuesday, the paper’s editorial board identified five companies with pro-LGBTQ policies — Fifth Third Bank, Wells Fargo, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, and Waste Management Inc. — that donated to the voucher program in exchange for write-offs on their state tax bills.
When Smith, the state legislator, tweeted out Tuesday’s Sentinel article, Fifth Third Bank responded via Twitter thanking him for his feedback, telling him that the company “stand[s] with #LGBTQ students and parents” and informing him that Fifth Third Bank would no longer contribute to the voucher program.
Emails seeking comment from the state Education Department, Geico, Southern Glazer’s and Waste Management did not get immediate responses Wednesday evening.
Last July, before the Sentinel’s investigation, a columnist for the paper wrote about the voucher program. Following the column’s publication, at least one company, Rosen Hotels & Resorts, an Orlando-based hospitality chain, stopped donating to the program.
The column also led state Sen. Darryl Rouson to pre-file a bill last year that would prohibit private schools that deny enrollment to students based on “race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity” from benefiting from the program.
Rouson’s bill, which was officially introduced this month, has not yet been considered by the Legislature.
A 14-year-old transgender boy is suing New York state over its policy barring minors from changing the gender marker on their birth certificates.
“Possessing accurate identification documents that are consistent with a person’s gender identity — a person’s core internal sense of their own gender — is essential to their basic social and economic well-being,” the lawsuit, filed Tuesday by the LGBTQ legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, states. “Access to employment, education, housing, health care, banking, travel and government services all hinge on having appropriate and accurate personal documentation that reflects a person’s true identity.”
Since 2014, New York state has allowed transgender adults to change the gender marker on their birth certificates. However, the policy does not extend to those younger than 18. Tuesday’s lawsuit claims this policy “violates the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal dignity, equal protection of the laws, fundamental rights to privacy, liberty, and autonomy, and freedom of speech.”
Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, one of the Lambda Legal attorneys working on the case, said the state’s existing policy could also put transgender youth in harm’s way.
“Studies show that having inaccurate identification documents exposes transgender people to discrimination, harassment and violence,” he said in a statement. “Moreover, transgender minors suffer from higher levels of anxiety, depression and suicide rates when they don’t have a supportive environment.”
In a statement emailed to NBC News on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, one of the defendants listed in the suit, touted New York state’s record as a leader in LGBTQ rights and said the lawsuit was currently being reviewed.
“From passing GENDA, to outlawing conversion therapy and eliminating the so-called ‘trans panic’ defense, New York has always been at the forefront of protecting and advancing the civil rights of transgender and gender nonconforming people,” Peter Ajemian, senior deputy communications director for the governor’s office, stated. “We are deeply sympathetic to the situation as it has been described to us and are reviewing this lawsuit.”
The teen at the center of the lawsuit, referred to only as M.H.W., was born in Ithaca, New York, but now resides in Houston, where he attends high school. In a statement released Tuesday, M.H.W. pleaded with the state to change his birth certificate gender marker from female to male and “respect my identity.”
“I am a boy. It’s frustrating to see New York State deny me the opportunity to correct my birth certificate, which I need for so many important facets of my life,” he stated. “Having an inaccurate birth certificate can cause the disclosure of my transgender status when I enroll in college classes or when I get my driver’s license, and expose me to possible harm.”
M.H.W.’s mother, Jennifer Wingard, is listed along with her son as a plaintiff. Wingard said she just wants “what is best” for her son.
“Our son is a boy, but New York State refuses to recognize him as such,” Wingard said in a statement. “We have been able to update our son’s other identity documents, such as his passport and social security records. So we were shocked when the only remaining roadblock came from New York State.”
Currently, at least 28 states allow transgender adults to change the gender marker on their birth certificates, though some of them require proof of sex reassignment surgery or a court order to do so, according to the LGBTQ think tank Movement Advancement Project. A number of these states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Washington permit trans minors to do so as well, according to Lambda Legal.
The Trump administration is proposing a rule that would allow faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to continue getting taxpayer funding even if they exclude LGBTQ families and others from their services based on religious beliefs.
The announcement generated a sharp backlash from some Democratic lawmakers and LGBT advocacy groups. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the Trump administration was working overtime to “implement cruel and discriminatory policies, and wasting taxpayer dollars in its obsessive pursuit.”
President Donald Trump has made addressing the concerns of evangelical voters a priority of his presidency.
The White House says the rule from the Department of Health and Human Services is needed to remove barriers that prevent some nonprofits from helping vulnerable people in their communities. It would apply to a broad range of organizations that receive federal support, such as those that get federal funding to help the homeless or prevent HIV. But the focus from supporters and detractors Friday was on foster care and adoption services.
Under the proposed rule, HHS would redo an Obama-era rule that included sexual orientation as a protected trait under anti-discrimination protections.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said that restricting the work of faith-based organizations, as the Obama rule threatened to do, was unfair and serves no one, “especially the children in need of those services.”
The Family Research Council, a conservative group with a long history of anti-gay advocacy that believes homosexuality is “harmful” to “society at large,” applauded the move and commended President Donald Trump for “his courage.”
“Thanks to President Trump, charities will be free to care for needy children and operate according to their religious beliefs and the reality that children do best in a home with a married mom and dad,” the organization’s president, Tony Perkins, stated. “Under the proposed HHS rule, faith-based adoption providers will no longer have to choose between abandoning their faith or abandoning homeless children because the government disapproves of their views on marriage.”
But LGBTQ groups say the administration’s plan would reduce the pool of qualified parents wanting to adopt or foster a child. They say that almost 123,000 foster children are awaiting adoption, but the rule would make even fewer families available to them.
“Children should never be denied the opportunity to join a stable, loving family — even if that means the family is LGBTQ,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement shared with NBC News. “Research has shown LGBTQ families provide the same kind of love, protection, and support as other families, and no child should be denied that kind of environment. The Trump Administration has once again demonstrated how they prefer to prioritize the gross work of anti-LGBTQ activists over the safety and well-being of our children.”
In a call with reporters Friday, representatives from Children’s Rights and the Voice for Adoption, two organizations that advocate on behalf of children in foster care, condemned the proposal.
“This rule is a full force attack by the United States federal government enshrining discrimination into law,” Christina Wilson Remlin, an attorney with Children’s Rights, said. The rule, she added, would be “at the expense” of children in foster care.
Remlin noted that there is a shortage of foster homes across the country and referenced a 2018 report from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law that found same-sex couples are significantly more likely than different-sex couples to be raising adopted or foster children — 21 percent compared to 3 percent, respectively.
Rabbi Jason Kimmel-Block, the director of progressive Jewish social justice group Bend the Arc, also spoke out against the proposal, which he called “jaw-dropping.”
“Religion is being used as a sword to harm people rather than a shield to protect people,” Kimmel-Block said of the plan during a call with reporters. He then accused the Trump administration of prioritizing the religious views of some people over the views and rights of others.
Once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register, which can happen as soon as early next week, there will be a 30-day public comment period. After that period, the administration will review those comments before issuing a final rule.
In the interim, the administration announced that it would not enforce existing nondiscrimination protections that it seeks to roll back in its proposal.
“HHS’ announcement that it will immediately cease enforcement of existing nondiscrimination protections, rather than adhering to the established procedures for changing regulations such as these, once again demonstrates the Trump administration’s utter disregard for the rule of law,” Sharon McGowan, the legal director of the LGBTQ civil rights group Lambda Legal, said in a statement shared with NBC News.
McBride will run for Delaware’s 1st Senate District, where incumbent Harris McDowell, a fellow Democrat, announced July 1 that he would retire in 2020. The district covers Bellefonte, Claymont and parts of Wilmington, the state’s largest and most populous city.
“I’ve spent my life fighting for people to have dignity, peace of mind, and a fair shot at staying afloat and getting ahead,” McBride said in a statement shared with NBC News. “Sen. McDowell’s retirement at the end of this term is a well-deserved cap on a remarkable career of public service, and now our neighbors need someone who will continue to fight for them.”
McBride, currently a spokesperson for LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, first made national headlines in 2012 while still a college student. A day after stepping down as American University’s student body president, McBride came out as trans in the school’s student-run newspaper. During her time in college, McBride also interned in the Obama White House, becoming “the first openly transgender woman to work in the White House in any capacity,” according to her campaign announcement.
It’s been less than four years since gay marriage was legalized in the U.S., and LGBTQ people still face hurdles in adopting children, joining the military and buying wedding cakes. But on primetime TV Monday night, a remarkable conversation took place: A presidential contender and one of the country’s most-watched cable news hosts discussed the weight of the metaphorical closet and their experiences in coming out as gay.
“You went through college, and then the Rhodes Scholarship process and getting the Rhodes scholarship and going to work for McKinsey and joining the Navy and deploying to Afghanistan and coming home and running for mayor in your hometown and getting elected before you came out at the age of 33,” MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said to Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, on her show Monday night. “I think it would have killed me to be closeted for that long.”
“It was hard,” replied Buttigieg, who announced his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination over the weekend. “It was really hard.”
“Coming out is hard, but being in the closet is harder,” said Maddow, a fellow Rhodes scholar who came out during college.
In addition to coming out to others, Buttigieg, now 37, revealed it also took him “plenty of time to come out to myself.”
“There were certainly plenty of indications by the time I was 15 or so that I could point back and be like, ‘Yeah, yeah, this kid’s gay,’ but I guess I just needed to not be,” he explained. “There’s this war that breaks out, I think, inside a lot of people when they realize they might be something that they’re afraid of, and it took me a very long time to resolve that.”
In addition to the struggles many people face coming out as gay, at the time Buttigieg was planning to come out, he was also an officer in the United States Navy Reserve and an elected official in Indiana. He told Maddow he assumed at the time that both roles were “totally incompatible with being out.”
Initially, Buttigieg said, the demands of his job as mayor forced him to put his personal life on the back burner.
“I did get a lot of meaning from that work, and in some ways, because it was so demanding, I almost didn’t mind for a sort of inordinately long time that I didn’t have much of a personal life,” he said. “The city was a jealous bride for a long time and kept me busy.”
However, a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2014 really put him “over the top.”
“I realize that you only get to be one person,” he told Maddow. “You don’t know how long you have on this earth, and by the time I came back, I realized, ‘I’ve got to do something.’”
Buttigieg came out in a June 2015 op-ed in The South Bend Tribune just before the Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage across the U.S.
“I was well into adulthood before I was prepared to acknowledge the simple fact that I am gay. It took years of struggle and growth for me to recognize that it’s just a fact of life, like having brown hair, and part of who I am,” Buttigieg wrote. “Like most people, I would like to get married one day and eventually raise a family. I hope that when my children are old enough to understand politics, they will be puzzled that someone like me revealing he is gay was ever considered to be newsworthy.”
When Maddow asked if Buttigieg thought coming out could cost him re-election, he revealed he was unsure.
“I felt like I had done a good job by the people of South Bend, and I had some level of trust that I would be rewarded for that with a re-election, but there’s no way to really know,” he said. “There’s no playbook, no executive in Indiana had ever been out, and so it was kind of a leap of faith.”
Buttigieg was re-elected in 2015 with nearly 80 percent of the vote — a wider margin than his election in 2011.
When it comes to the presidential election, Buttigieg said most people are “either supportive or even enthusiastic about the idea of the first out person going this far.” And he’s right: A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found nearly 70 percent of U.S. voterswere either enthusiastic (14 percent) or comfortable (54 percent) with a gay or lesbian presidential candidate. This is up from 43 percent in 2006.View image on Twitter