When asked about their hopes for Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s young presidential campaign in March, LGBT politicos and advocates told The Daily Beast that they were confident that the 37-year-old would prove himself as more than merely the “gay candidate for president.”
Three months, millions of donor dollars, and a well-received Democratic primary debate performance later, and the nation’s largest LGBT political action committee is officially satisfied that Buttigieg has met the challenge. On Friday, exactly 50 years after the Stonewall Riots helped ignite the modern gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights movement, the LGBTQ Victory Fund announced that it was endorsing Buttigieg for president, the first presidential endorsement in the organization’s history.
“Every day that Pete is in the race, from the standpoint of an LGBT activist, he transforms American politics,” Annise Parker, president of the Victory Fund and the former mayor of Houston, told The Daily Beast ahead of the announcement. “As long as he is on that debate stage, LGBTQ issues can never be put on the backburner.”
She last spoke to The Daily Beast about Buttigieg shortly after he became the first out gay person to qualify for a presidential debate. At that time, Parker said that the Victory Fund wanted the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, “to show that he deserves to be in the arena.” Asked Friday when Buttigieg had proven his worthiness for an endorsement, Parker said that the mayor’s campaign has crossed every threshold expected of an out gay candidate.
“Whether you’re running for school board or president, you have to prove that you are capable and qualified,” Parker said. “He put together an obviously competent campaign, and once he qualified for the debate stage, that was another checkmark.”
Buttigieg’s position in the top tier of campaign polling was a factor in the endorsement as well, hinted at in the group’s official endorsement announcement, which calls him “the first viable LGBTQ candidate for President of the United States.” And although the decision by Victory Fund’s 104-member campaign board to officially endorse—a unanimous decision, Parker said—came a few weeks before Buttigieg’s participation in Thursday’s debate, his performance only reaffirmed the group’s confidence.
“The fact that we’re going to issue our endorsement on the anniversary of Stonewall, following a really excellent performance on the debate stage, means our timing is excellent,” Parker said.
At that debate, Buttigieg’s sexual orientation was a non-issue, acknowledged only by the candidate himself. That level of normalcy, Parker said, is exactly what the organization hopes to promote in the future.
“It’s cool to see that he is being accepted on that debate stage and very much being treated to the same questions, and the same level of scrutiny, that the other candidates are,” Parker said. “The most relevant thing about him is not that he’s an openly gay man… we don’t win by surprising people—we win by demonstrating our competence and competing on the same playing field as everyone else.”
Buttigieg will officially accept the endorsement at a World Pride event in Brooklyn on Friday evening. Although the Victory Fund only endorses out candidates—making him the only person in the field eligible for the group’s backing “unless somebody’s going to surprise everybody,” Parker joked—the endorsement could still serve as a vital signal booster for donors and supporters who are still in the process of selecting a candidate.
“We are asking that you put your money behind Pete and help him cross the finish line,” Parker said. “He has proven himself.”