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 ButtigiegJournalism is now opinion-based — not news-based Buttiegieg backs NFL players' right to protest during anthem: I 'put my life on the line to defend' that 2020 Democrats join striking McDonald's workers 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 PocanTrump-Pelosi fight threatens drug pricing talks Democrats seize on IRS memo in Trump tax battle The Memo: Trump allies see impeachment push backfiring on Democrats 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 BaldwinWarren vows to fight 'tooth and nail' for LGBTQ protections as president This week: House to vote on bill to ban LGBTQ discrimination Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Pentagon approves transfer of .5B to border wall | Dems blast move | House Dem pushes Pelosi to sue over Trump's Yemen veto MORE or anyone else. I think that people are ready for it.”

Rep. Mark TakanoMark Allan TakanoThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition — Trump: GOP has `clear contrast' with Dems on immigration Dems push to revive Congress' tech office Veterans' suicides are an epidemic 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 DavidsOvernight Defense: Trump officials say efforts to deter Iran are working | Trump taps new Air Force secretary | House panel passes defense bill that limits border wall funds Congressional Women's Softball team releases roster Celebrate Small Business Week: Invest in young female entrepreneurs 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 WilsonOvernight Defense: Iran worries dominate foreign policy talk | Pentagon reportedly to send WH plans for 10K troops in Mideast | Democrats warn Trump may push through Saudi arms sale | Lawmakers blast new Pentagon policy on sharing info House Dem: Trump could start war with Iran to thwart impeachment Lawmakers celebrate 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote 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. JohnsonPelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote The Go-Go's rock the stage at annual 'We Write the Songs' DC concert Democrats talk subpoena for Mueller 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 PappasNew Hampshire Democrat: 'I wouldn't write off someone like Bill Weld' Dem lawmaker calls for gas tax increase to help pay for infrastructure package The Hill's Morning Report - The heat turns up on Bill Barr 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 HillLawmakers celebrate 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote California lawmaker discusses personal experience with abortion Women's rights hashtags trend on Twitter following Alabama abortion law 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 HarrisSan Francisco police chief apologizes for raid on journalist's home Gillibrand seizes on abortion debate to jump-start campaign Senate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk 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.