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PROVINCETOWN, Mass. — Presidential hopeful and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg — who has made history as the first openly gay top-tier presidential candidate — hosted a town hall-style meeting and attended a private fundraiser in Provincetown, Mass., known as one of the gayest ZIP codes in America.
And the importance of the moment was not lost on the many LGBTQ fans who showed up to give him a hero’s welcome.
“In my lifetime — as someone in his 50s who came out at 18 — I never thought I’d see a viable, openly gay presidential candidate,” Jay Coburn, who runs an affordable housing agency in Provincetown, told Yahoo Lifestyle as he waited outside of the event wearing a navy blue “Pete Town 2020” shirt. (Before Buttigieg, there was Fred Karger, who ran as an openly-gay Republican in 2012.)
“It means a lot to me,” Peter, 15, told Yahoo Lifestyle about seeing an openly gay presidential hopeful. He was among 35 teen attendees of an LGBTQ summer sleep-away camp called Camp Lightbulb who sat in reserved front-row seating at the town hall meeting. During his time at the camp, Peter added, “I’ve never felt this accepted in my life.”
It’s something many people notice when they arrive in tiny Provincetown — aka Ptown or, this week, “Pete Town” — on the tip of Cape Cod. It has long been a bohemian outpost for artists, writers, LGBTQ folks and anyone else who’s felt like a misfit, though it’s recently shifted into more of an elite gay getaway (with showrunner Ryan Murphy, a Buttigieg supporter, and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow among its most A-list homeowners). Joe Biden made a money-making campaign stop here in 2012, followed by Hillary Clinton in 2016, both of them bringing a swirl of excitement.
The town was abuzz again on Friday, when many LGBTQ residents and visitors turned out for Buttigieg, who, no matter how far he makes it in the race, has already become a political icon to the many who are excited by the possibility of seeing a gay man as the U.S. commander in chief.
“It’s history in the making,” Beau Babineau, of nearby Truro, said just before Buttigieg took the stage. “And I think it’s a direct reaction to what’s in the White House now.”
Others said that while Buttigieg’s sexual orientation was an initial draw, it’s not what kept them onboard.
“Maybe in the beginning,” noted Chuck King, of Virginia, who was in town with his husband, Bob Martin. “It was the lightning rod. But then I realized, oh, there’s a lot more there.”
At the free, ticketed, sold-out event held inside the stately 1886 Town Hall (with a capacity of 700), Buttigieg was introduced by his husband, Chasten, who referenced the Stonewall uprising, thanking “especially trans persons of color,” and who briefly discussed his first date with “Mayor Pete” (they shared a pint and caught a ball game).
Chasten had been introduced by Bryan Rafanelli, a Provincetown homeowner, Boston-based event planner (he produced Chelsea Clinton’s lavish wedding) and a major Democratic donor and host of several private Buttigieg fundraisers. The fundraising party he hosted on Friday, after the town hall, raised $335,000, Rafanelli tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Even before that windfall, Buttigieg had raised nearly $25 million, putting him ahead of the entire pack of Democratic candidates. He was recently endorsed by the Victory Fund, a political action committee with an aim to elect LGBTQ politicians.
“This extraordinary man is going to do great things for this country,” Rafanelli told the crowd at Town Hall. Earlier this week, he told WBUR, “This guy is the real deal. He’s wildly impressive, highly intelligent. But the way he can actually process information and ideas and policy and speak to a crowd is something I have not seen since President Obama.”
At the rally, Buttigieg answered questions (pulled from a jar onstage by Rafanelli) about the “environmental crisis,” health care, being both gay and religious, and student loan debt. At one point he admitted, “I’m preaching, I imagine, to the choir here,” and the crowd laughed and cheered. He also gave a shout-out to the teens of Camp Lightbulb and stressed the power they have to change the nation.
Rather than telling them they are the future, Buttigieg said, “You are the present. … You have the ability to bring some of these issues to light.” And, he added, “You are not alone.”
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