Pete Buttigieg says America has probably already had a gay president.
The South Bend, Ind., mayor told “Axios on HBO” that “we’ve probably had excellent presidents who were gay — we just didn’t know which ones.”
Buttigieg is striving to become the first openly gay person to win the presidential nomination of a major political party.
Here’s the exchange:
Axios on HBO: “Republicans claimed that John Kerry was a traitor in Vietnam. That Barack Obama was a Muslim. If you were to win the nomination, they’ll say you’re too young, too liberal, too gay to be commander-in-chief. You are young. You are a liberal. You are gay. How will you respond?”
Buttigieg: “I’ll respond by explaining where I want to lead this country. People will elect the person who will make the best president. And we have had excellent presidents who have been young. We have had excellent presidents who have been liberal. I would imagine we’ve probably had excellent presidents who were gay — we just didn’t know which ones.”
Axios: “You believe that we’ve had a gay commander-in-chief?”
Buttigieg: “I mean, statistically, it’s almost certain.”
Axios: “In your reading of history, do you believe you know who they were?”
Buttigieg: “My gaydar even doesn’t work that well in the present, let alone retroactively. But one can only assume that’s the case.”
It wasn’t clear what Buttigieg meant by “statistically” certain, but a 2017 Gallup poll found that 4.5% of adult Americans identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). That means nearly 5 people per 100 are gay, and America has had 45 president, so the notion is not far-fetched.
“Overall, 5.1% of women in 2017 identified as LGBT, compared with 3.9% of men. The change among men over time has been minimal, with the LGBT percentage edging up from 3.4% in 2012 to 3.7% both last year and this year. On the other hand, the percentage of women identifying as LGBT has risen from 3.5% in 2012 to 5.1% today, with the largest jump occurring between 2016 and 2017,” Gallup wrote.
The Washington Post has pushed this idea as well. In March, the paper published a piece headlined “America has already had a gay president.”
“If elected, you would be the first openly gay president of the United States,” Stephen Colbert said to Pete Buttigieg after the mayor of South Bend, Ind., declared his candidacy. While the characterization of being openly gay or “out” is relatively new, the fact is the United States has already had a gay president whose contemporaries knew it: James Buchanan. Indeed, the United States has also had a gay vice president and, maybe more surprisingly, a gay senator from Alabama.
If students taking U.S. history classes are taught anything about Buchanan, they learn that he was “our only bachelor president.” How quaint. But, by using euphemisms, we falsely educate students — indeed all Americans — about the realities of this country’s history. We also distort how and why Buttigieg’s sexual identity matters today.
The writer, Ezekiel Emanuel, also speculated that perhaps Buchanan was bisexual.
Skeptics will note that in 1819, at age 28, Buchanan was engaged to Anne Coleman, daughter of a rich Pennsylvania ironmaster. Ultimately, she canceled the engagement and shortly thereafter apparently committed suicide. A rumor in the 1850s had Buchanan involved with Sarah Childress Polk, the widow of President James Polk, but it was never substantiated. In all, there is no evidence that he ever was intimately involved with another woman. At most it could suggest Buchanan was bisexual.