Administration

Groups hope Buttigieg opens door to more LGBT nominees

LGBTQ organizations are enthusiastically hailing President-elect Joe Biden’s nomination of Pete Buttigieg for secretary of Transportation, saying they hope it will open the door for others.

“I don’t think that the amount of enthusiasm can be overstated by the community,” Ruben Gonzales, executive director of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, told The Hill. 

Gonzales remarked that Buttigieg has already made history during his 2020 bid for president, but his nomination in the Biden administration signals that LGBTQ people will be offered a seat at the decisionmaking table. 

“We know that when an LGBTQ person is at the decisionmaking table, they are able to talk about their lives because they’ve lived them,” he said.  

Biden officially announced Buttigieg’s nomination on Tuesday, calling him a “patriot and a problem-solver who speaks to the best of who we are as a nation.”

If confirmed, the former South Bend, Ind., mayor would be the first openly LGBTQ Cabinet member to be confirmed by the Senate. Rick Grenell, who served as the acting director of national intelligence from February to May, was the first openly LGBTQ Cabinet secretary.

Buttigieg nodded to the trailblazing status in public remarks Wednesday at an event where Biden formally introduced him.

“I am also mindful that the eyes of history are on this appointment,” he said. “Knowing that this is the first time an American president has ever sent an openly LGBTQ Cabinet member to the Senate for confirmation.”

Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal, said the step is truly historic in the context of how the LGBTQ community was treated during the AIDS crisis, an epidemic that ravaged the community and lead to thousands of deaths. 

“The government ignored us and let us die,” Jennings said. “People are policy and if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”

But with Buttigieg’s nomination, “The LGBT community has a seat at the most important table in the country,” he added. 

The news of Buttigieg’s appointment comes as Biden and Harris have pledged to assemble a Cabinet that “looks like America.” 

The president-elect’s transition team has been under increasing pressure as of late from progressive lawmakers and various advocacy groups to keep its word. 

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Alphonso David said that Buttigieg’s nomination to the Cabinet is a signal that the future Biden-Harris administration will make good on its pledge to the American people. 

“LGBTQ people reflect every facet of life and are in every single industry. And this nomination reflects the diversity and life experiences of people in this country,” David said in an interview with The Hill. 

LGBTQ community leaders said they hoped that the buck does not stop with Buttigieg.

“It’s a historic decision. It’s a first. We hope that it’s just the first of firsts. We’re seeing an administration come in that is dedicated to diversity at all levels and all agencies,” said Cathy Renna, interim communications director at the National LGBTQ Task Force. 

Renna underscored that the LGBTQ community is a microcosm that represents the American population and its diversity. The director said that she hopes the Biden administration will continue to appoint community members who are gender nonconforming, queer and transgender from different cultural and racial backgrounds. 

“When we look at our community, we are a microcosm of the culture. We’re an incredibly diverse community,” Renna said. “Hopefully we will see an administration that places transgender people in positions where they are able to serve the country.”

For now, however, leaders say they are celebrating Buttigieg’s nomination, underscoring that his potential position as Transportation secretary will send a signal to younger generations of the LGBTQ community.

“Representation matters,” David said. “The young LGBTQ people out there who have never seen themselves reflected in high level positions of government. That now changes.” 

During his remarks on Wednesday, the former mayor noted that his nomination is a signal to young people like him that they can serve in the federal government. 

“I can remember watching the news, 17 years old in Indiana, seeing a story about an appointee of President Clinton named to be an ambassador attacked and denied a vote in the Senate because he was gay. Ultimately able to serve only by recess appointment,” Buttigieg said, referring to James Hormel, an appointee of former President Clinton who served as the ambassador to Luxembourg from 1999-2001. “At the time I had no aspirations of being appointed by a president to anything. At that age I was hoping to be an airline pilot. And I was a long way from coming out, even to myself.”

Still, Buttigieg said, he learned “something about the limits that exist” in America when it comes to belonging. 

“But just as important, I saw how those limits could be challenged. So, two decades later, I can’t help but think of a 17-year-old somewhere who might be watching us right now. Somebody who wonders whether and where they belong in the world and even in their own family,” he said.

Julia Manchester contributed  

Updated at 12:02 p.m.

Tags Biden transition Bill Clinton Joe Biden LGBTQ rights Pete Buttigieg Transportation Department

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