As the first out presidential candidate in the history of the Democratic Party, Pete Buttigieg has largely won over members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender political establishment who see his upper-tier candidacy—and top-tier fundraising numbers—as a promising sign of mainstream LGBT acceptance.
Now, hours before Buttigieg joins eight other candidates at a Democratic presidential town hall focused on queer issues, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has released a comprehensive set of proposals outlining his LGBT agenda, a bid to own the issue in a party where many LGBT political priorities have become Democratic orthodoxy.
The 18-page white paper, titled “Becoming Whole: A New Era for LGBTQ+ Americans,” includes both long-desired goals, like passing anti-employment discrimination legislation, as well as other issues seldom articulated by prominent presidential candidates, including banning unnecessary surgery on intersex children, adding non-binary gender options to U.S. passports, and restoring veteran benefits to LGBT people who have been discharged from the military due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Twenty years ago, an awkward teenager at St. Joe High, who didn’t know a single out LGBTQ+ student there, never would have imagined how far we would come,” Buttigieg said in a statement outlining his—for lack of a better term—gay agenda. “And yet discrimination and the ever-present fear of it continue to govern aspects of LGBTQ+ people’s lives who question if they can be who they are and keep their job, or come out at school knowing they might be bullied for it. When I’m president, we will implement solutions bold enough to meet the challenges the LGBTQ+ community faces while bringing the American people together to understand that our freedoms are bound up in each other.”
Combined, the proposals amount to the most in-depth LGBT policy outline released by any White House hopeful so far, and draw a sharp contrast with the policies of President Donald Trump, many of which Buttigieg pledges to undo if elected.
Trump, who has fashioned himself since his 2016 presidential campaign as a history-making ally of LGBT people, has largely dealt with LGBT issues in the same manner as previous Republican presidents, including a spur-of-the-moment tweet announcing that “transgender individuals” would no longer be allowed “to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” ending protections for transgender students in public schools, and just this week arguing before the Supreme Court that sex discrimination protections should not be used to prevent discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Americans.
The president’s most prominent gay allies have dismissed Buttigieg’s past attacks on the administration’s record—as well his hits against Vice President Mike Pence, a fellow Hoosier who signed a bill that provided legal cover for anti-LGBT discrimination—as “opportunism” afforded by his status as a gay candidate.
“When it benefited his political career, Pete Buttigieg remained in the closet. When it benefited his political career, Pete Buttigieg came out as gay,” former Log Cabin Republicans president Gregory T. Angelo told The Daily Beast in April. “When it benefited his political career, Buttigieg was more than happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with Mike Pence as allies, and when it benefited his political career, Pete Buttigieg was more than happy to throw his longtime friendship with Mike Pence under the bus and criticize him.”
Buttigieg, who has in the past said that he doesn’t want to be constrained by the label of “the Gay Candidate,” is far from the only Democratic presidential candidate to have called for an end to Trump-era LGBT policies.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, whose public call for same-sex marriage helped force President Barack Obama come out publicly in support of marriage equality, has publicly stated that his top legislative priority would be the passage of the Equality Act, which would protect LGBT people from legal discrimination. In a video message recorded for attendees of RuPaul’s DragCon, Sen. Elizabeth Warren specifically cited ongoing violence against trans women of color as a crisis that the next president must address. Warren released her policy plan for LGBT issues on Thursday morning as well.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ track record on LGBT issues while in the Senate is nearly unimpeachable, including votes both against the Defense of Marriage Act and so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation that barred out servicemembers from the U.S. military.
But in addition to proposals that have become established Democratic legislative priorities, Buttigieg’s agenda includes major priorities among LGBT advocacy groups and individuals that have never been invoked by any major presidential candidate: repealing a federal ban on blood donation by gay and bisexual men, requiring health care coverage of gender-affirming care for transgender people, and decriminalizing the transmission of HIV.
“For LGBTQ+ people, like for other marginalized groups, the political has always been extremely personal,” Buttigieg said. “This is why our policy is inspired by LGBTQ+ people’s stories: by the war that breaks out in the heart of a young person when they realize that a basic fact about them makes them more likely to be feared, and the immense joy that comes with finally knowing with certainty that you belong.”
Buttigieg’s LGBT proposals also touch on other policy initiatives, including his proposal to reduce the cost of pharmaceuticals released earlier this week. The plan would increase the accessibility and affordability of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily pill that vastly decreases HIV transmission rates but is often out of reach for uninsured people who can’t afford the medication’s $1,600 monthly pricetag.
“If pharmaceutical companies selling PrEP therapies refuse to ensure affordable access for all Americans, a Buttigieg administration will pursue aggressive price negotiations in line with our broader drug pricing strategies,” the proposal declares. “If those negotiations fail, given the vital public health role of PrEP as an HIV prevention tool, Pete will consider exercising eminent domain on PrEP-related patents.”
The legislative laundry list of to-dos in the proposal—including a nationwide ban on so-called “conversion therapy” and firming up protections for LGBT asylum seekers—serves as a lengthy reminder of policies that have largely fallen by the wayside under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Buttigieg frames that dynamic, alternating between dismissal and hostility, as making LGBT people feel isolated, unprotected, and less free.
“What does our country look like to a teenager in 2019, just starting to realize who they are? What future do they see for themselves?” Buttigieg said. “They see a government that is allowing clinicians to refuse to treat patients who are LGBTQ+. They see a president who, when asked about LGBTQ+ rights by a reporter, joked of his vice president: ‘Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!’… They see a country where they are still not fully free or safe and one in which they still don’t feel like they fully belong.”
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