Pete Buttigieg is 'almost certain' US has already had gay president

Andrew Buncombe

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has said he would almost certainly not be the country’s first gay president if he is elected to the Oval Office next year.

The 37-year-old mayor from South Bend, Indiana, is the youngest of two-dozen Democrats seeking the party’s nomination in 2020, and only the second youngest Democrat ever, after California’s Jerry Brown, who made his first run run in 1976 and was a few months younger than Mr Buttigieg. Mr Buttigieg is also the first openly gay candidate from a major party to run for the nation’s highest office.

Yet, Mr Buttigieg, who would represent a generational shift in the White House, said he doubted he would be America’s first gay president, though he might be the first openly gay commander-in-chief.

In an interview with Axios on HBO, Mr Buttileg was asked how he would respond if Republicans said he was “too young, too liberal, too gay to be commander-in-chief”.

“I’ll respond by explaining where I want to lead this country. People will elect the person who will make the best president. And we have had excellent presidents who have been young,” said Mr Buttileg, who is placed in fourth place in most polls, behind Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

“We have had excellent presidents who have been liberal. I would imagine we’ve probably had excellent presidents who were gay – we just didn’t know which ones.”

He added: “I mean, statistically, it’s almost certain.”

Asked if he was able to identify which of America’s 45 presidents were gay, he said it was not something on which he would speculate.

“My gaydar even doesn’t work that well in the present, let alone retroactively,” he said. “But one can only assume that’s the case.”

Earlier this year, the Washington Post published an op-ed article by academic Ezekiel Emanuel, headlined “America has already had a gay president”.

Mr Emanuel, vice provost for global initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, laid out the case that James Buchanan, the US’s 15 president, was gay.

“If students taking US history classes are taught anything about Buchanan, they learn that he was “our only bachelor president”. How quaint. But, by using euphemisms, we falsely educate students — indeed all Americans — about the realities of this country’s history,” he wrote.

He said that before becoming president, Buchanan, who served from 1857 to 1861, openly lived with William Rufus King, “who at various times served as senator from Alabama, ambassador to France and, finally, Franklin Pierce’s vice president”.

“By not openly discussing this moment, we forget that being gay in the mid-19th century did not automatically exclude a man from national leadership,” he added. “The idea that some people, including politicians and social leaders, are gay was not news or shocking to our forefathers.”

He wrote: “So, sorry, Pete Buttigieg, you can’t aim to be the first gay president, although you could be the first married gay president.”