LGBT lawmakers say nation is ready for gay president

LGBT lawmakers say nation is ready for gay president
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LGBT members of Congress say the U.S. is ready to elect its first gay president.

Democratic lawmakers who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual told The Hill that American voters have come a long way on LGBT rights, predicting that South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegCalifornia poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth Buttigieg unveils disaster response plan focused on communities Poll: Biden holds five-point lead over Warren among New York Democrats MORE (D) wouldn’t have to deal with the levels of homophobia that might have derailed his insurgent campaign in a past election cycle.

Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanOmar says US should reconsider aid to Israel Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move Liberal Democrat eyes aid cuts to Israel after Omar, Tlaib denied entry MORE (D-Wis.) said a lot has changed since he ran for local office in the 1990s, even as he hailed from a community with multiple openly gay elected officials.

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“People would send an article back with my face crossed out putting ‘dead faggot’ underneath it. And it was a very tough time 25 years ago,” Pocan told The Hill.

“But I think where most of America’s at is a very different place and I don’t think it should be any barrier for anyone, whether it be Mayor Pete, [Wisconsin Democratic Sen.] Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinFederal funding for Chinese buses risks our national security Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall The Trump downturn: Trouble ahead for the US economy MORE or anyone else. I think that people are ready for it.”

Rep. Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoDemocrat Raul Ruiz challenged by Republican with the same name in California race House Democrats blur lines on support for impeachment College should profit students and taxpayers — even at for-profit schools MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said that being gay actually helps Buttigieg stand out in the crowded Democratic presidential field.

“I’m admiring of the way he speaks the language of spirituality and religion in a way that I think communicates a set of values. And I admire the way that he has appropriated a space,” Takano said.

Takano compared his unsuccessful House campaign in 1994 — when a GOP state lawmaker outed him as gay — to running in 2012 when his sexual orientation was hardly on the radar.

He further pointed to LGBT candidates winning in competitive races around the country last fall, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and freshmen Reps. Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsCentrist House Democrats press for committees to follow pay-go rule Ocasio-Cortez chief of staff to leave her office The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller testimony gives Trump a boost as Dems ponder next steps MORE (D-Kan.) and Angie Craig (D-Minn.).

“In the early ’90s, I think being gay was seen, as a politician, as a liability,” Takano said, adding that “I still have a little PTSD” from the 1994 campaign. “My struggle in 2012 was actually for the press to even pay attention to it.”

A new survey from Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday found that 70 percent of voters said they’re open to electing a gay man as president. However, 52 percent also said they do not believe the country is ready to vote for a gay man.

Some challenges remain, particularly among black voters, a crucial group in the Democratic coalition that tends to be more socially conservative than the rest of the party.

Buttigieg, who has acknowledged that he needs to attract a more diverse set of supporters if he’s going to win the nomination, took the No. 3 train to Harlem on Monday to have lunch at Sylvia’s Restaurant with civil rights leader and MSNBC personality the Rev. Al Sharpton.

“We need to deal with homophobia in the black community,” Sharpton told Buttigieg. “You should be judged on your merits. We can’t fight against bigotry based on race if we’re going to be bigots based on sexual orientation.”

Rep. Frederica WilsonFrederica Patricia WilsonTen notable Democrats who do not favor impeachment Assault weapons ban picks up steam in Congress Democratic rep reconsiders wearing trademark hats because of 'racists who taunt me' MORE (D-Fla.) told The Hill she agrees with Sharpton.

“He’s right,” Wilson said. “I think it’s getting better, and it doesn’t mean that Pete has to give up on the African American community, but it’s fair for [Sharpton] to warn him that it’s a heavy lift.”

A CNN survey released Tuesday found Buttigieg polling at 7 percent support nationally, but only pulling 3 percent support from nonwhite voters.

That could be a problem for Buttigieg, particularly in the diverse early-voting state of South Carolina.

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But Rep. Hank JohnsonHenry (Hank) C. JohnsonThe United States broken patent system is getting worse Why target Tucker Carlson? It's part of the left's war on the right The Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? MORE (D-Ga.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, emphasized that African American voters are “not monolithic,” noting that certain regions of the country are simply more conservative than others.

“Black Americans are no different than the community at large with respect to views on homosexuality, they’re no different,” he said. “So, I personally don’t believe that our community is any more conservative than any other community when it comes to that issue.”

Johnson predicted that Buttigieg’s sexual orientation would ultimately not be a factor in the eyes of black voters, who are more interested in how his policies will affect their lives.

“The black community is ready to look beyond sexual orientation and select the person who we feel will best lead our country forward,” he said. “But I agree that he has to come out and be visible in the African American community regardless of geographic location. He can’t be reticent about who he is and selling who he is and what his programs are.”

Buttigieg was not openly gay in 2011 when he won a first term as mayor of South Bend at age 29. He decided to go public with his sexuality upon returning home from the war in Afghanistan in 2015.

Until then, Buttigieg said he had become an expert at having “separate identities.” But he said the deployment to Kabul made him realize “you only get to be one person” in life.

At the meeting with Sharpton, Buttigieg said his sexuality was not a big issue as he sought reelection in 2015.

“I didn’t know what the politics would be,” Buttigieg said. “I felt like the city would stand with me. ... I just said who I was and tried to be treated like anyone else. There was some ugliness. But when primary day rolled around, I got 78 percent and then in the general election 80 percent, so it showed me most people didn’t care. They were supportive or didn’t care.”

Buttigieg has battled a few anti-gay protesters on the presidential campaign trail. But LGBT lawmakers dismissed them as fringe elements.

“I don’t think most Americans are represented by those protesters,” Takano said.

Rep. Chris PappasChristopher (Chris) Charles PappasThe Hill's Morning Report - US coastline readies for Hurricane Dorian to make landfall Swing-seat Democrats oppose impeachment, handing Pelosi leverage Second Democrat representing Trump district backs impeachment MORE (D-N.H.), a freshman who represents a swing district, said the U.S. is “absolutely” ready to elect a gay president. Pappas echoed Buttigieg in saying he never once faced a hostile question about his sexual orientation while he was running for Congress.

“Look, in the last three elections an African American candidate and a female candidate won the popular vote, I think that speaks strongly to where the country is at the moment,” Pappas said. “And in 2018, we saw a Congress get elected that looks more like the rest of America than ever before. This country is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was just 10 years ago.”

Freshman Rep. Katie HillKatherine (Katie) Lauren HillYoung insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight Polling director: Young voters swayed by health care, economy, gun control Lawmakers grill manufacturers over 'forever chemicals' contamination MORE (D-Calif.), who flipped a GOP-held district last fall, said it wasn’t an issue in her campaign
either.

“My district has a history of being one of the most, like, homophobic districts. And as an openly [bisexual] woman, I was expecting it to be an issue in my general [election]. And it wasn’t,” Hill said.

Hill has endorsed her fellow Californian, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisCalifornia poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth Kamala Harris calls for new investigation into Kavanaugh allegations Poll: Biden holds five-point lead over Warren among New York Democrats MORE, for president.

But when asked whether America is ready for a gay president, Hill said: “I don’t think you become ready for something until we do it, no matter what that is.”

Mike Lillis contributed.