by Diane Anderson-Minshall
(Diane Anderson-Minshall is the editorial director for The Advocate and Chill magazines and editor in chief of Plus magazine. A version of this op-ed ran on Advocate.com.)
I was disappointed I didn’t get a chance to challenge Mayor Pete Buttigieg on his comments regarding LGBTQ media at the LGBTQ Forum that The Advocate hosted recently. I think it’s a classic case of someone speaking without having all the facts.
The press outlets that have speculated about what kind of gay man he is or isn’t have largely been mainstream outlets like The New Republic, even if they’ve employed other gay men to do so. And in that case, Mayor Pete should remember the writer of that The New Republic’s “satire” is an author and book critic, not a political pundit or policy wonk by any means.
I suspect though that Buttigieg is a bit on edge because he knows that just as President Barack Obama was the man to make it for African-Americans, Pete is just the kind of LGBTQ candidate that will become the first of us to make it to the White House. He’s a white, Christian, upper-middle-class, monogamous, non-threatening, and easy on the eyes man with a homespun Midwest sensibility that makes people like him. I like him. And I’m sure he knows that he has that privilege — and it is weighty.
But with it comes the responsibility of remembering all the “radicals” that got him to that position — the gay rights activist Barbara Gittings marching in the streets, AIDS activists Sean Strub and Peter Staley hoisting giant condoms over a congressman’s house, lesbian literary icons like Audre Lorde who spoke out until their premature deaths (from health issues that plague our underserved community), the bisexual performers like Josephine Baker who helped bring an end to World War II, pioneering activists including Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson (the latter one of so many murdered Black trans women) paving way for transgender women today, civil rights activist Bayard Rustin helping launch the movement, and politician Harvey Milk, a flamboyant and feminine gay man who couldn’t help but “sound gay.”
There’s also the hundreds of us who have worked in LGBTQ media over the past seven decades since Edith Eyde (under the pen name Lisa Ben) published Vice Versa, the first North American lesbian publication. As the editorial director of the country’s oldest LGBTQ magazine — The Advocate celebrated its 52nd anniversary this year — and someone in this field for 30 years, I know how hard it was for LGBTQ media outlets and the people who worked at them, especially in the years before the internet when we were often the sole voice reaching out to queer folks in many places.
Historically, police didn’t just raid our bars, they raided our media. People threw our newspapers out in mass and burned our stands. Some of us were beaten in our own offices or homes simply for daring to be an LGBTQ journalist — this because we were out at work (when the mainstream didn’t employ LGBTQ journalists who were out or even “suspected” of being queer) and because we dared discuss issues that mainstream publications wouldn’t care about until very recently.
Heck, it took Kamala Harris saying the names of the trans people — mostly Black women — who have again been murdered in record numbers to get their names in some mainstream presses.
Actually, I suggest Mayor Pete go read “Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America” by Rodger Streitmatter before his next interview and rethink his assumptions. I think Pete wasn’t just “grumpy,” he was being short-sighted and forgetting that it is LGBTQ journalists — and other activists from his community — who have helped him get where he is, who have given him many of his rights and privileges that allow him to stand on the stages he’s on now, and have helped him build an audience and fan base among young people.
He should remember, too, that those of us who were — or are — visibly radical, flamboyant, femme, of color, non-gender conforming, disabled, in-your-face, transgender, queer, polyamorous, and otherwise not the “right kind” of candidate are the very ones who helped push America to see that Pete Buttigieg could be.