Responding to #QueersAgainstPete and their baseless attacks on Pete Buttigieg

A new group, “Queers Against Pete,” has popped up in the Twittersphere. They have a website (which you can check out at www.queersagainstpete.com) and an open letter which you can sign, if you wish. However, before you do that, I’d like to offer my line by line rebuttal. There are some serious errors, omissions, and misrepresentations here which are worth considering. Please note that for the purposes of this blog I have used the letterwriter’s own acronym “LGBTQIA” to refer to our community.

Open Letter

Dear fellow members of the LGBTQIA community,

Hello, letter writer!

This election cycle we will be presented with plenty of options. Up and down the ballot, candidate’s stances will impact us, our families and communities. If we’ve learned anything from our ancestors and transcestors, it’s that we must speak out…and act up. This primary election is one such example.

Transcestors? Never heard that. Clever word play.

There has been much talk about identity and diversity in the race to win the Democratic party nomination for president. Some have touted former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s openly gay identity as proof of progress in our politics. However, being gay is not enough to earn the support of LGBTQIA communities.

I agree that being gay is not enough to earn the support of the LGBTQIA community. I wouldn’t vote for a gay Republican because their politics do not match mine. There is no reason why anyone in the LGBTQIA community or any community should feel compelled to support Pete Buttigieg just because he is gay.

However, Mayor Pete is proof of progress in our politics – or at least in our society. His candidacy was unimaginable even 10 years ago. Keep in mind it was only 12 years ago that America elected its first Black president. Keep in mind it was only 5 years ago that marriage equality – which I’m sure you have radical arguments against, but stay with me – was legalized across the nation. I came out in 2001 (you can read about that here), and the world was very different. We’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time, and that is worth acknowledging at the very least.

We cannot in good conscience allow Mayor Pete to become the nominee without demanding that he address the needs and concerns of the broader Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA) communities. While many see different issues in silos, we are clear that LGBTQIA people are directly and disproportionately impacted by police violence, incarceration, unaffordable healthcare, homelessness, deportation, and economic inequality among other things.

This is where it would be nice if you offered evidence that LGBTQIA people “are directly and disproportionately impacted by police violence, incarceration, unaffordable healthcare, homelessness, deportation, and economic inequality.” Maybe we are. But citing statistics and sources is important when making a claim. Because, for example, if a Black gay man is shot dead by the police in an extrajudicial execution—as happens far too frequently in our nation—I would argue that more often than not it’s because he is Black and not gay.

I will, however, concede the point that LGBTQIA people care about more than what we often refer to as “LGBT rights.” I respect the desire to point this out, because too often the media portrays “identity voters” as only caring about a narrow set of issues when that is simply not the case.

Mayor Pete is leaning on the support and actively courting the LGBTQIA community, but has shown time and time again that he is out of touch, not fit to be President of the United States, and simply falls short.

I actually haven’t seen Mayor Pete “leaning on the support and actively courting the LGBTQIA community” anymore than any other candidate (and less so than Elizabeth Warren), though I’m not sure why you present that as a bad thing. Candidates should be trying to win over LGBTQIA voters.

  • Mayor Pete opposes free universal free public college and does not support cancelling student loan debt;

    This is true, and when I endorsed Mayor Pete, I noted it as one of the principle policies on which we disagree. But here’s what Mayor Pete’s plan does do: it makes public universities free to families making up to $100,000 a year and adds $120 billion to the Pell Grants funds (which is an excellent fund and put me through college). 80% of American families will be eligible for free tuition.

    Pete’s logic is that the richest among us should be expected to pay their fair share. Pete’s plan is not, as you imply, a plan which is built out of selfishness or callousness, but a radical reshaping of American higher education. It opens a door for millions of Americans to get a degree who previously would have been prevented because of the skyrocketing cost of college tuition.

    As for student loans, Pete has pledged to cancel student loan debt for students who attend predatory for-profit schools. He has laid out an income-based repayment plan for people struggling with student loan debt – and the loans will be cancelled after 20 years in the plan. He will end wage garnishments for low-income workers, and offer student loan forgiveness to public servants after 10 years of employment in the public sector.

    These progressive plans do more than we’ve ever done to help students and those with student loan debt. They’re also more palatable to American voters, the majority of whom oppose free college and paying for loan forgiveness with a new tax. It’s important to move the country forward, but we must also meet voters where they are.

  • Mayor Pete has no plan to restore the right to vote for all formerly and currently incarcerated people, create an alternative to police, or end cash bail;

    Let’s take a look at Pete’s plan. “Pete will abolish private federal prisons and reduce the use of private contractors, eliminate the for-profit bail industry, and work with states to cap the amount of revenue cities and counties receive from fines and fees.”  He also wants to eliminate mandatory sentencing and look at sentencing caps, eliminate incarceration for drug possession, legalize marijuana and expunge past convictions. He wants to equalize funding between federal prosecutors and federal public defenders – ensuring a robust and top-notch defense for the accused. He supports a constitutional amendment to ban the death penalty. Pete does support restoring voting rights to felons released from prison, but he does not support allowing those currently incarcerated to vote – an uncontroversial opinion with which 69% of Americans agree.

  • Mayor Pete has not addressed the concerns related to Eric Logan, a Black South Bend resident who was shot and killed by a white police officer. Furthermore, while in office, Mayor Pete refused to release the police tapes relating to the demotion of Darryl Boykins, the first Black person to serve as police chief. We echo the demands of Black Lives Matter – South Bend to create a Citizens Review Board and for the release of the tapes;

    It would be helpful here if you explained what specific concerns related to the police killing of Eric Logan you want Mayor Pete to address. Your vague wording strikes me as intentional – you want to score political points using a dead Black man but you do not actually have any grievances specific to this case. “The disconnect between the Black community and the municipality under several administrations has been a festering problem in the greater South Bend area for more than 50 years,” KaRon Kirkland, a 62-year-old lifelong South Bend resident told NBC last year. “It didn’t start with Pete.” For more on what Mayor Pete did for Black South Benders, Buzzfeed produced this detailed and thoughtful reporting in December.

    As for Darryl Boykins, I’m going to let Pete tell you what happened in his own words, as he goes into the details of the Boykins case in his memoir Shortest Way Home. I’ve quoted at length here, but I encourage you to stick with it, as it is one of the most misunderstood and misreported aspects of his mayoralty.

    “…after interviewing [Boykins] and two competitors for the job, I decided during the transition phase that I would reappoint him,” Pete writes. Boykins—who apparently was paranoid that “some other officers” were gunning for his job (despite the fact that Mayor Pete had decided to keep him on)—

    “allegedly confronted them with tape recordings that could embarrass them if disclosed. He had access to these tapes because some phone lines in the department were connected to recording equipment used for interviews and investigations, and the officers had been recorded on that equipment without their knowledge. As court filings would later document, the chief threatened to take action against at least one officer he had come to consider disloyal. Perhaps the chief didn’t realize that I was already leaning toward reappointing him; or perhaps it just seemed like an insurance policy.

    Enter the Federal Wiretap Act—a set of very strict federal laws about recording other people without their knowledge. In fact, making such recordings or disclosing their content can be a felony, punishable by prison time as well as fines. There are state laws, too, against recording a conversation without the knowledge of either party, absent a warrant or other legal clearance. The recorded officers knew it, and complained to federal authorities, who took the issue seriously. So that’s how it came to be that, a few weeks into the job of mayor, I learned that my newly reappointed police chief was being investigated by the FBI. Eventually a message came through, thinly veiled but quite clear, from federal prosecutors: the people responsible for the covert recordings needed to go, or charges might be filed……I sat at the end of the conference table in my office and contemplated which scenario was more likely to tear the community apart—a  well-liked African-American police chief potentially being indicted over compliance with a very technical federal law, or me removing him for allowing things to reach this point? There was no good option: the community would erupt either way.”

    Buttigieg then called Boykins, asking him to voluntarily step down. (Pete admits this was a mistake—he should have done it in person, and he learned that lesson.) Boykins agreed, and the community was predictably outraged. The next day, Boykins changed his mind and withdrew his resignation. Pete, however, felt he had no choice. “Even leaving aside that I believed removing him was the best way to avoid him facing potential legal action, I had lost confidence in the leadership of a chief who had not come to me the moment he realized he was the target of an FBI investigation.” Pete didn’t fire him—only the Board of Public Safety can fire an officer—he demoted him.It was only after this that local press began reporting that the officers who had been recorded had allegedly used racist language to insult Boykins. “The content of the tapes had not come up when I was talking with staff or with the chief about the issue,” Pete writes, adding that he was immediately concerned about the “credibility and legitimacy” of the South Bend Police Department. “…[S]ince so many of the worst race-based abuses in modern American history happened at the hands of law enforcement, policing was the most sensitive part of the entire administration when it came to demonstrating that we acted without bias.”

    The crux of the issue is that Mayor Pete had and has no way of knowing what is on those tapes. The recordings were made illegally. “Under the Federal Wiretap Act,” he explains, “this meant that it could be a felony not just to make the recordings, but to reproduce or disclose them. Like everyone else in the community I wanted to know what was on those recordings. But it was potentially illegal for me to find out, and it was not clear I could even ask, without fear of legal repercussions.” Mayor Pete still has not heard the recordings and doesn’t know if he or the public ever will—not because of some coverup, but because of federal law.

    Mayor Pete learned a lot from the Boykins incident. “The most important lessons of this painful episode were… about the deeply fraught relationship between law enforcement and communities of color,” he writes. “Ferguson and everything that followed in the Black Lives Matter movement came after the tapes controversy exploded locally, but their urgency grew from the same root: the fact that many of the worst historical injustices visited upon [B]lack citizens of our country came at the hands of local law enforcement.”

  • Mayor Pete has not said if he would support a moratorium to end deportations or that he would decriminalize border crossing;

    Mayor Pete has committed to supporting a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including a push for legislation on the issue within his first 100 days in office. He wants to reduce barriers to healthcare and education for undocumented immigrants and protect undocumented workers from retaliation when reporting labor violations. He plans to increase the number of visas issued for family reunification will fight for reforms to reclassify spouses and children as immediate relatives and recognizing same-sex partners from countries lacking marriage equality in order to allow an immigrant to sponsor their same-sex partner.

    While it is true that he has not said if he would support a moratorium to end deportations or if he would decriminalize border crossings, what you are talking about is essentially an open border. I support open borders (not just in America, but globally). Most Americans do not, and it is a cudgel with which Trump will bludgeon any candidate who does support open borders. That doesn’t mean Pete’s immigration plan isn’t progressive.

  • Mayor Pete opposes complete Medicare for All and universal childcare;

    It’s telling that you had to add the word “complete” before “Medicare for All,” because you know to do otherwise would misrepresent Pete’s policy. “Medicare for All Who Want It” would automatically enroll the uninsured and be the greatest expansion of American healthcare in history. Only 13% of Americans support “Medicare for All” as proposed by Bernie Sanders – while a majority of Americans support universal healthcare without abolishing private insurance. “Medicare for All Who Want It” insures the uninsured, provides an affordable option to low income people and will prompt private insurers to either compete with lower prices and better products or fail. I am someone who believes healthcare should be free at the point of access, but I do not believe Medicare for All is a winning electoral policy, and I certainly don’t believe anyone—not even Bernie Sanders—could get it through Congress, even if both Houses are controlled by Democrats. Barack Obama couldn’t even get a public option through because of the conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats. This goes back to meeting voters where they are and choosing practicality and incremental improvements over ideological purity at the expense of power.

    From his website: “Pete will make a historic $700 billion investment in affordable, universal, high-quality, and full-day early learning, as well as outside-of-school learning opportunities in K-12 education. He will make early learning and care from birth through age five free for lower-income families and affordable for all, and invest in the child care workforce.”

  • During his tenure, Mayor Pete demolished homes of many South Bend residents who were unable to afford repairs and drastically ramped up unfair fines;

    This is not entirely accurate or fair. It is referring to Mayor Pete’s “1000 homes in 1000 days” initiative which, as the name implies, demolished 1000 abandoned or vacant homes in 1000 days. The media has really gotten this story wrong. The project tried to track down owners where they could and provide time and support for renovations to be made to bring the properties up to standards. Indeed, South Bend’s lack of enforcement on property codes in the past exasperated issues. This was met with the “South Bend Repair” initiative which poured $1 million into helping homeowners repair dilapidated homes. Another grant would give homeowners $25,000 to repair their homes.

    Part of the success of the “1000 homes in 1000 days” is, of course, demolishing unlivable homes (as we know abandoned buildings are hotbeds from crime), but also of refurbishing and rebuilding affordable housing for South Benders. Indeed, Mayor Pete met with residents and took 40% of homes off the demolition list after hearing their concerns (a hallmark of Mayor Pete’s mayoralty by the way – he listens to constituents)

    Mayor Pete has committed to building or restoring at least 2 million homes for the lowest-income Americans as well as investing in initiatives making homeownership a reality for millions of lower-income Americans, especially lower-income Black Americans who have experienced racial discrimination in housing.

  • Mayor Pete does not support boycotting for political reasons;

    I cannot find any evidence that supports this claim. He has allowed protestors at his events and has engaged with them when they are willing. I do not know how to respond to this claim other than to say I believe it is a flat-out lie.

  • Mayor Pete has no plan to cap credit card interest rates or guarantee a job to everyone who needs one; and

    From his website: “When your credit card company rips you off, you should have the right to a day in court with a good lawyer, full rights, and public transparency. In most cases, though, the company probably forced you to sign away that right. As consumers, we should always have the right to a fair process and strong protections that keep companies honest in the first place.”

    I suppose I must concede that it is true that Pete Buttigieg does not have a plan to guarantee a job for everyone who wants or needs one. To the seven Americans to whom a promise of a job for everyone is a make-or-break issue, Pete Buttigieg isn’t your candidate, and fair dos.

    For everyone else, Pete plans to ensure workers in the gig economy are guaranteed their labor rights, strengthen unions by fining companies who interfere in union elections, institute gender pay transparency, enshrine multi-employer bargaining rights into law, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and end “right to work” laws, among other bold, progressive initiatives. His record in South Bend, where he revived a Rust Belt city on life support, shows that he knows how to grow the economy and attract 21st century businesses and create 21st century jobs. Unemployment in South Bend fell nearly 10% during his time as mayor.

  • Mayor Pete supports the increase of defense spending which is already 50% of the federal budget.

    “America’s security challenges demand a military budget that provides both the overall capacity and specific capabilities to deter conflict across the globe and fight and win if necessary. I’ve been clear that we need to maintain absolute military superiority. The question of how much we should spend should be defined by where and how we need to spend it to best protect our citizens and our interests,” Buttigieg told Military Times last November. He does not mention increasing spending, but rather maintaining our military superiority and modernizing our military. I’m not sure where you’re getting this figure from, making this another instance where it would be helpful if you actually cited your sources. The fact that you don’t should make anyone reading your latter deeply skeptical of your motives and accuracy in presenting Pete Buttigieg as an enemy to the LGBTQIA community.

These gaps in Mayor Pete’s platform will fall particularly hard on LGBTQIA communities. Take housing as an example: 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQIA. Nearly one-third of trans people have experienced homelessness, and one in ten have been evicted from their home for being trans. This is only exacerbated by the fact that there is no federal law that consistently protects LGBTQIA individuals from housing discrimination. And while Mayor Pete, like the rest of the field, supports the Equality Act, this isn’t enough. Public housing remains in disrepair in the U.S., with billions in backlogged repairs due to decades of underinvestment, and the changes Pete proposes are grossly inadequate relative to the scale of the problem, and will not solve our housing crisis. We need only look to Pete’s track record of tearing down hundreds of homes in Black and Latino neighborhoods in South Bend to show us that he is not committed to protecting our communities.

Here you actually cite your sources, which makes it all the more frustrating—and suspect—that you did not cite sources in your critiques of Mayor Pete. That being said, yes, homelessness is a pernicious problem for the LGBTQIA community, and the Equality Act (which you correctly note Mayor Pete supports) would go a long way in addressing the discrimination the LGBTQIA community faces in housing and public accommodations. As previously mentioned, Mayor Pete has committed to improve public housing and repair or rebuild two million homes for low-income Americans. I’m not sure how that is “grossly inadequate” as it is one of the biggest public works projects in modern American history. The Buzzfeed article you cite with regards to his “track record of tearing down homes” is rightly critiqued in an article from Washington Monthly I cited earlier in this blog and paints a one-sided, slanted, biased view of what happened with “1000 homes in 1000 days” – an initiative which helped many POC and/or low-income South Benders repair their homes and addressed the urban blight of abandoned and decaying houses.

As LGBTQIA people our lives are layered and must have an intersectional framework in our analysis, organizing, and movement building. We know that: Education justice is LGBTQIA justice. Racial and economic justice are LGBTQIA justice. Decarceration is LGBTQIA justice. Immigrant and refugee justice is LGBTQIA justice. Health justice is LGBTQIA justice. Housing justice is LGBTQIA justice. Demanding corporate accountability and for wealthy people to pay an equitable share of taxes is LGBTQIA justice.

Yes, education, racial and economic justice, immigrant and refugee justice, health justice, etc etc etc are “LGBTQIA issues” (or matters of justice as you say) because 1) they effect LGBTQIA people just as the effect the rest of society 2) LGBTQIA people care about these issues just like other communities care about them. So while I think this paragraph comes off as sort of smug, it’s not entirely wrong. What is wrong is suggesting Pete Buttigieg doesn’t care about these issues.

During this critical election, it’s important that LGBTQIA people demand more from our leaders and from a candidate claiming to be in community with us. Leaders within our communities — especially Black trans women —  have worked tirelessly over the past two decades to push LGBTQIA movements to value and fight for our full identities and experiences. We cannot afford to go backwards or accept the status quo.

Pete Buttigieg isn’t “claiming to be in community with us,” he is in community with us. Stop trying to tell me otherwise. He is gay, whether you like it or not. Voting for Mayor Pete is voting to move American forward and bridge the divides within our nation. It is not accepting the status quo, and it is not going backwards.

It is for these reasons and more that a group of us have come together under the banner of #QueersAgainstPete. If you agree, we invite you to add your name to this letter and join our collective voice against Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy for president. We believe the LGBTQIA community deserves better than Pete.

I have to question why you hate Pete Buttigieg so much. Writing this letter about one of the most progressive candidates for president in American history instead of any other candidate reeks of homophobia in that it’s clearly written from a perspective that Pete isn’t a “proper gay” or isn’t “gay enough” because whoever wrote this disagrees with his policy positions. I believe the LGBTQIA deserves better than a deliberately misleading open letter and smear campaign against the first openly gay candidate for president. So no, I won’t be signing.

I would encourage anyone who has read this far to check out www.peteforamerica.com to find out what Pete Buttigieg really plans to do for Americans (LGBTQIA or not).

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Tennessee. His work has appeared at the Independent, Huff Post UK, Salon, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan and become a sustainer at www.patreon.com/skylarjordan

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