Chasten Buttigieg: LGBTQ rights could be at stake in November election

Chasten Buttigieg (center-right) talks with volunteers and organizers working for the Biden-Harris re-election campaign at an office in Las Vegas on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. (Photo credit: courtesy)

By Casey Harrison

May 1, 2024

In a Q&A, the husband of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tells The Nevadan that, when it comes to LGBTQ issues, the difference between Biden and Trump couldn’t be more clear.

While growing up in northern Michigan, Chasten Buttigieg had always wondered if the people in charge cared about the wellbeing of young queer kids like himself.

That was in the 1990s, when gay relationships were often depicted as taboo if they were even depicted at all. It was also hardly a decade removed from the national hysteria sparked by the HIV and AIDS epidemic, which decimated LGBTQ communities and stigmatized almost any association with gay people.

The answer, Buttigieg said he came to, was seemingly not.

“I didn’t know there were any other gay people at all,” Buttigieg, husband of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, told The Nevadan in a recent sit-down interview.

“I didn’t know that it was OK to be gay,” he continued. “I certainly didn’t believe that people in those big, white buildings in positions of power cared about me.”

Which is exactly why Buttigieg said he and others are sounding the alarm at renewed attacks aimed at this generation’s LGBTQ youth ahead of the Nov. 5 presidential election. From red state bans on gender-affirming care for transgender youth to laws banning trans participation in youth sports, Buttigieg said he believes the nation is at a crossroads for the treatment of trans people and others in the LGBTQ community.

Buttigieg was in Las Vegas on Tuesday to meet with field organizers from President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign office, and sat down with The Nevadan to discuss the stakes of the 2024 election for folks like him and the estimated 145,000 LGBTQ Nevadans.

Here’s what he had to say:

(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity)

The Nevadan: In terms of expanding LGBTQ rights and civil liberties, what do you think the Biden administration has done better than previous administrations?

Buttigieg: Well, I think for one, acknowledging the dignity of LGBTQ Americans, right? This election is a choice between two different candidates: One believes in protecting LGBTQ Americans, and the other doesn’t. One surrounds himself with people who uplift LGBTQ voices and people who, obviously, has them working in their administration; believes in protecting their basic human rights and dignity.

The other person, Donald Trump, has consistently surrounded himself with people who degrade LGBTQ Americans, who attack LGBTQ Americans. He surrounds himself [with] politicians who seek to roll back protections for LGBTQ Americans [and] who are talking about everything from book bans to making sure that young, vulnerable people can’t access life-affirming and life-saving care.

The Nevadan: Given that, what’s at stake for the LGBTQ community in the November election?

Buttigieg: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Democrats across the board are squarely focused on solving real-world issues for American families. And on the other side of the aisle, you have people who are sort of struggling to figure out exactly what their party is, what they truly care about.

Obviously, they care about things like tax cuts for the rich, but they’re really trying to focus on a lane, and, right now, it’s attacking LGBTQ Americans—it’s one of their most favorite lanes, I guess, right now. They want to talk about things like book bans and they want to talk about denigrating the dignity of young trans people. When it comes to trans Americans, you’re talking about less than 1% of the American population, you know, give or take. And you’ve seen states across the country: Republicans are squarely focused on making sure that sometimes in the states, one kid can’t play, you know, on a sixth-grade basketball team.

Democrats recognize that LGBTQ Americans are worth protecting, they’re worth lifting up, but also that there are a million other things that we need to be focused on as a country. Things like climate change, women’s health issues—those are LGBTQ issues as well. So, for me, you know, I obviously think that if you have a question about a book, you should ask your librarian and probably not your Congressman.

I believe in lifting up teachers—making sure they’re paid what they’re worth and give them the respect that they deserve. But I also recognize that some of the most important issues facing education come down to making sure that our teachers are paid and schools are safe.

RELATED: Nevada teacher thanks Biden for erasing student debt

Which also brings me to another point that’s really important to solve for our teachers, [which] is gun safety in this country. When I was teaching, one of my jobs as a teacher was to be on our school’s safety committee, which is something I don’t believe we should have to have in the United States of America. But every morning, after my students went off to math or science, I would have to walk around the building and check that every door was locked. I’m very familiar with running a lockdown drill, and what it’s like to ask seventh and eighth graders to hide under their desks or in the closet in the corner, knowing damn well that if somebody came into school with a gun, that none of that was going to protect me or my students.

I think it’s a pretty sad state in America when every student and teacher goes to school in this country knowing that it could be their last [day]. I’m going to vote for somebody who wants to do something about that. I’m not going to vote for the guy and the party that says we have to ‘get over it.’

The Nevadan: Here in Nevada, lawmakers last year enacted a law that mandates health insurance cover procedures like gender-affirming care. The state has also outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In a state where many LGBTQ protections are in place, could it be challenging to get those voters to turn out?

Buttigieg: I think that’s totally valid. So let’s keep building a country and a state where LGBTQ people feel safe, feel like they can be their authentic selves.

I will also recognize that many people are feeling exhausted right now. It’s April, and for folks who aren’t extremely dialed in—they have jobs to do and families to raise—it might make sense they feel a little tired. It might make sense that if you’re a young LGBTQ person living in Nevada that you question whether or not the people in power truly care about you. That’s how I felt when I was a young queer kid growing up in Northern Michigan.

I didn’t know it was OK to be gay. And I certainly didn’t believe that people in those big, white buildings in positions of power cared about me. So that means it’s our job to keep going out there and reminding them that there are people in elected office who care about you, who will fight for you. That’s what motivated me to get involved in politics. That’s what motivated me to become a teacher—to make sure that young people felt supported.

I wanted to be the teacher I wish I would have had in eighth grade, when I felt like there wasn’t any space for me.

The Nevadan: Are there any specific policy changes you hope the Biden administration can achieve in the LGBTQ space should he win re-election?

Buttigieg: I think we need to keep pushing for the Equality Act. And President Biden has signaled that should the Equality Act reach his desk, he would sign it. And so I’m going to keep doing everything I can to make sure that the Senate actually gets that on his desk.

That is also why we [Democrats] need to flip the House and hold the Senate. Down-ballot races are important, too. And now, Democrats are supporting everyone from school board members all the way up to the president. As you’ve seen across this country, sometimes it’s the school board member that is making life so dramatically different for a young, queer person in this country.

The Nevadan: Under Secretary Buttigieg and President Biden, Nevada has received funding for expanding the network of electric vehicle chargers, as well as funding to jumpstart the Brightline West light rail project. Is further rollout of the Inflation Reduction Act and other climate legislation on the line in 2024?

Buttigieg: Well, if you zoom out, you have one party who believes in climate change, and you have one party that doesn’t. And one party believes we have to tackle climate change and we have to keep making choices as a country to push forward and actually tackle this crisis, and the party doesn’t believe in that.

And so that is what’s at stake in choosing Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, over Republicans, because they don’t recognize that China is beating us in this race with EVs. America can either beat China and get ahead, or we can fall behind. Even when it comes to EV infrastructure, that’s creating good union careers in the US, and I think it’s a smart choice as a country, for our planet, for our kids.

MORE: Vegas-to-SoCal high-speed train project gets $3 billion from Biden administration

That’s one of the things I’m terrified thinking about—that the choices that we’re making today are the choices that are going to affect our children in the future and what they will inherit.

  • Casey Harrison

    Casey Harrison is political correspondent for The Nevadan. Previously, he covered politics and the Oakland Athletics' relocation to Southern Nevada for the Las Vegas Sun, and before that, was a digital producer at The Detroit News. Casey graduated from Michigan State University in 2019.

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