Mayor Pete Is Gay Enough, but Gay Is Just One Letter in LGBTQ+

Anoosh Jorjorian
5 min readSep 23, 2019


My dad, of all people, clued me into the scandal. “Did you hear?” he asked me. Although I am queer and on Twitter and he is neither, he had heard about the “Mayor Pete Is Not Gay Enough” controversy, and I had not.

The kerfuffle — I don’t want to give this situation more dignity than it deserves — centers on a statement Pete Buttigieg made in an interview on The Clay Cane Show. Cane poses a question that, notably, does not accuse Buttigieg of somehow being “not gay enough.” Instead, it’s a question that goes directly to issues of privilege and advancement. Noting that “masculine-presenting [gay] men” are often granted more access, Cane asks, “How different would it be if you were, quote unquote, ‘more effeminate’?”

Buttigieg replied, “It’s tough for me to know, right, because I just am what I am, and you know, there’s going to be a lot of that. That’s why I can’t even read the LGBT media anymore, because it’s all, ‘he’s too gay,’ ‘not gay enough,’ ‘wrong kind of gay.’”

Record scratch.

This response is a logic mess. Buttigieg didn’t answer the question Cane asked, which was in essence, “How would your experience be different if you had a more femme presentation?” Buttigieg confesses that he doesn’t know. Why doesn’t he know? Has he never talked with gay men who were called sissy queens? Has he never imagined how his colleagues would treat him differently if he were less Pete Buttigieg and more Jonathan Van Ness? “I just am what I am.” Hm, his own presentation has absolutely nothing to do with the misogyny and homophobia that prevent other gay men from ever being considered “Presidential material”? This seems disingenuous at best.

After dismissing Cane’s question with a one-sentence answer, Buttigieg turns his attention to the LGBT media, saying he “can’t even read [it] anymore” because he feels attacked — a characterization the LGBTQ media takes issue with. But while the “too [identity]/not [identity] enough” dichotomy is a familiar complaint, my thoughts snagged on “wrong kind of gay.” What could that mean? I couldn’t help but wonder if his answer had something to do with sitting across from an African American interviewer while campaigning to be the next Democratic President after our first African American one.

Angelica Ross struck a chord for me when she said of Buttigieg, “[I]t’s wonderful and so historic to know that we have an openly gay candidate running for president. But I want to see that just as you’re strong on issues facing LGBTQ people, you’re also strong on issues facing people of color. That you don’t have these blind spots and that you are not only willing to answer these tough questions, but also willing to solve.” Ross herself is indicative of how far the representation that much of our community craves has moved beyond an out gay man. Ross broke new ground last week when she, an out trans African American woman, hosted a Presidential forum.

It’s obvious to intersectional members of the LGBTQ+ community that Mayor Pete is comfortable and at home with just a thin slice of the rainbow, and it’s the most hegemonic demographic: cisgender, masc-presenting gay white men. It’s not an inauthentically gay demographic, but it is a demographic that generally has enough wealth and power to live away from the rest of us.

Privilege is seductive and blinkering, and whiteness and maleness are two of the most potent forms of privilege in the US. Women, people of color, people with disabilities, trans folks, immigrants — we have all felt, at one time or another, that white, cisgender gay men not only don’t relate to our experiences, but many of them participate — some unknowingly, some willingly — in our marginalization. The resonances of this longstanding tension in the LGBTQ+ community means the rest of us wince every time Buttigieg can’t seem to grasp or even see our experiences, experiences that seem to be practically alien to him.

Right-wingers love to misunderstand this, because it’s about a concept they don’t believe in: intersectionality. “The ‘Tolerant Left’ is so intolerant!” they crow. “They say they’re for gay rights but they hate their gay candidate!” Nuances of privilege and marginalization, intersection of identities and politics don’t belong in their worldview, which insists on a fantasized, identity-less “meritocracy.” They want to expose hypocrisy on the left while being utterly unconcerned with their own. Meanwhile, their candidate is systematically stripping rights and protections from every demographic outside of white, cisgender, heterosexual, American-born masculinity.

Conservative media concern-trolling.

In his complaint, Buttigieg unwittingly adds fuel to these arguments. But beyond that, Buttigieg’s dodge and misunderstanding of Cane’s question shows plainly that he is almost as uncomfortable and threatened by discussions of intersectionality as conservatives are. In party where people of color, particularly African Americans, form the foundation of support, Buttigieg needs to do better to make up a confidence gap with these communities.

Mayor Pete could better represent the LGBTQ+ community in two ways: 1) He could own his limits of being a white, cisgender, masc-presenting gay man and be honest about what he doesn’t know about our community’s depth and diversity. 2) He could make an effort to know the whole community, our struggles, and our issues better by getting out of his own white cis gay male bubble.

LGBQ people of color and trans Democratic voters need to be able to be honest about Mayor Pete’s shortcomings without being hit with right-wing talking points about the “intolerant left.” We’re supposed to be the party of lifting the marginalized up, not shutting them down. If Buttigieg wants to represent the LGBTQ+ community, he needs to listen to all of us, especially when it makes him uncomfortable.



Anoosh Jorjorian

Writer, activist, inclusion and equity consultant. Parenting, immigration, LGBTQ+, racial justice. Pub list: