The LGBT community has seen public opinion shift in recent years on a range of issues, including same-sex marriage and equal rights. A recent poll shows one more issue illustrative of this trend: Voters have become much more accepting of gay Americans seeking the highest office in the land.
There was a time when South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s sexuality — he is gay — would have made him unelectable in many parts of the country.
As recently as 2006, when Buttigieg was 24, most Americans said they would be “very uncomfortable” or have “reservations” about a gay person running for president.
That has changed dramatically.
According to a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans said they would be either enthusiastic about or comfortable with a candidate who is gay or lesbian. To put that in perspective, 85 percent said they were enthusiastic about or comfortable with a female candidate.
Elliot Imse, spokesman for the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a group that helps elect gay people to office, told the Fix that Americans’ views on LGBTQ people in politics have changed with other cultural shifts.
“It’s extremely exciting to see Americans become more supportive of LGBTQ candidates in the same way they’re becoming more supportive of LGBTQ rights generally,” Imse said. “I think the two are very much trending in line with each other. As acceptance of LGBTQ people has grown, LGBTQ candidates can be open and honest about their lives from the beginning, allowing them to control the narrative and focus on the issues they want to talk about.”
Millennials are the largest voting bloc in the country, and it’s easy to attribute the attitudinal change primarily to these younger voters, who generally have more liberal positions on social issues. But that doesn’t totally explain the pivot. According to NBC, “While seniors are more likely to voice reservations about gay candidates, a majority (56 percent) now say they have no objections. That’s up from just 31 percent in 2006.”
Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), co-chair of the House LGBT Equality Caucus, told the Fix:
“This is a sign of the progress we’ve made, but it’s also a reminder of the work that’s left to be done. In 2019, no person should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s why we are going to continue fighting until we achieve full equality for the LGBT community.”
To those who have fought for equal rights for the LGBT community for decades — this year is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, a pivotal moment in the gay rights movement — this change in the public’s support is considered progress. But others argue that it should not be interpreted as a place of arrival.
Drew Goins, an opinion writer for The Washington Post, wrote that gay candidates seeking high offices still face very real challenges: “The idea that it’s not hard to be gay in America is ludicrous. The United States is still new to marriage equality. A majority of states have no LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws. There’s been only one openly gay man elected governor and no such senators (Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is the chamber’s lone lesbian, and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema is bisexual), let alone president. The gains have been hard-won, and they’re still tenuous. Support for LGBTQ rights is dropping among Republicans — and the Supreme Court is being reshaped in ways that could make future victories harder to come by and past progress harder to maintain.”
Buttigieg is showing that a gay man can make a serious run for the presidency. In the first quarter of the year, he raised at least $7 million as he launched a presidential exploratory committee. And he has seen a recent uptick in the polls.
While his sexuality will surely turn off some voters, some of the hurdles have been knocked down, allowing him to focus on the issues that matter most — and not his sexuality — to those he hopes to lead.