Opinion: Pete Buttigieg Will Have To Deal With Homophobia In Every Community, Not Just The Black One
Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE

Before his interview with Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, veteran country radio host Blair Garner reportedly sent a letter to his affiliate stations, warning them more or less not to lose their minds over the booking. 

According to the Washington Post, Garner was surprised when members of Buttigieg’s campaign reached out to him with an interview request while the candidate was in town for a fundraiser, but granted the request all the same. “It is not, in any way shape or form, my intention for our show to become political,” Garner wrote. “But because someone clearly saw the value of our listeners, I felt secure in affording him this opportunity.”

The interview can be heard in its entirety on Garner’s SoundCloud account, but it was banned from airing on his show by his parent company, Cumulus Media. In response, Garner wrote a lengthy Facebook post where he said he was “proud” of the interview but was informed he would not be allowed to air it. “Again, I would have GLADLY welcomed any other viable candidates to be a guest, especially President Trump,” Garner explained. “To my thinking, the best way to a reasoned, thoughtful position on any topic, is to hear from both sides. Regardless, the interview was killed.”

In a statement to the publication, Cumulus Media cited its decision as in line with the “equal time rule.” 

“Cumulus Nashville’s programming managers made the decision not to air Blair Garner’s pre-recorded interview with Mayor Pete Buttigieg because of the large number of political candidates currently in this race,” the statement read. “The decision was made by local programming management based solely on concerns related to the application of the FCC’s Equal Time Rule. The effects of the FCC’s Equal Time Rule are widely understood and considered whenever these types of issues arise.”

However, others suspect Cumulus Media of being misleading. 

Cumulus’ rationale “is flat wrong,” media researcher and communications professor Dylan McLemore tweeted on Monday. “The equal time rule is indeed ‘widely understood’ … to NOT include ‘bonafide news interviews,’ even by entertainment hosts like Garner. Cumulus knows this. So what’s the real reason?”

McLemore went on to make the following comparison in a subsequent tweet:  “Look, Jimmy Fallon isn’t playing with Donald Trump’s hair if it means NBC has to give equal time to Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and every other candidate that won’t score them ratings. But equal time doesn’t apply.”

Others have a theory on what’s truly behind the Buttigieg interview being banned on air. 

In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Andrew Schwartzman of Georgetown’s Institute for Public Representation argued that Buttigieg’s interview was within an exemption to the rule.

“This was almost certainly a bona fide news interview,” Schwartzman explained to TPM’s Kate Riga. “If another candidate asked for equal opportunity, equal time, the station could say no.” 

Schwartzman had another theory. 

“This is much more likely to be about Cumulus not wanting to be seen as promoting a candidate who may not be particularly consonant with the proclivities of country station listeners since he is — how should we put this — gay.”

I have had my criticisms of Pete Buttigieg – namely the lofty ways he’s spoken about Trump voters and his failure to handle police brutality in South Bend, Indiana where he presides as mayor – but I still respect the significance of his candidacy. Imperfect or not, he is a gay man with presidential ambitions being taken seriously. Much of that is rooted in him being cis-gendered and a white male, but there are queer people already drawing inspiration from him and that should not be downplayed.

What does frustrate me, though, is that as a gay man, Buttigieg, like any pioneering candidate, has and will continue to be subjected to certain obstacles rooted in homophobia only I imagine much of the media coverage surrounding that will be lopsided.

Now, I imagine if this were a hip hop or R&B station that opted not to air Buttigieg’s interview, the insinuation that homophobia was the root cause would be more pronounced. After all, the groundwork to lay the blame of the failure of Buttigieg’s campaign is being placed at the feet of old Black Christians in the South. Although I suppose there is an attempt at nuance in the Vice News piece that ran in early July about Buttigieg’s problem with appealing to older Black Christian voters in South Carolina, it reminds me of every other story like this that purports Black homophobia is so much more pronounced and hostile in the Black community than all others.

Cornel West actually speaks to how some have “weaponized the homophobia of the Black church” to paint an unfavorable narrative, but West, who was revealed to be “longtime friends with Buttigieg’s father, the late Notre Dame professor Joseph Buttigieg,” notes, “Homophobia cuts in every community. It’s a vicious evil in every community.”

That somehow continues to get lost in the narrative about how homophobia can hurt Pete Buttigieg’s historic run. 

While I get the point of the Vice News piece is to argue that if Pete Buttigieg can’t win over a significant number of older Black voters who believe Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve in South Carolina, his candidacy is doomed, I find that argument flawed for a number of reasons.

Maybe Buttigieg wouldn’t win South Carolina, but there is an opportunity for him in other states in which the Black folk isn’t majorly older, Black, and deep into the Lord. There are so many people running for president that the Black vote may actually end up more split than it has in several years, but that’s only if candidates like “Mayor Pete” make inroads.

It’s on Buttigieg to fix the problem and to continue to put the onus on Black people collectively is unfair. And last I heard, Buttigieg has struggled with Black residents in his hometown for years as mayor and none of that has to do with him being gay. Nor it is out fault where Buttigieg squanders opportunities to tie his history with exclusion to groups that might understand. 

I still don’t get why he never spoke on Nigel Shelby. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker did. There have been so many young gay Black men that have killed themselves over the years. I think it would behoove the first gay man with a presidential campaign taken seriously to make a greater effort to speak to them. Likewise, last month Kamala Harris introduced a bill calling on dramatically expanding access to PrEP. Given HIV rates among Black and Latinx men remain dramatically high, this is another issue that gives Buttigieg an opportunity to tie his history with exclusion to those with dual identities. 

Buttigieg has acknowledged that while he is a member of the LGBTQ community, life is much harder for Black trans women. Cool, but what are you going to do about it? And can you speak a bit more about the plight they face along with other queer Black people?

After all, some of us are Black and queer and trans. We’re not ready to throw a Bible at Pete and rebuke him in the name of Jesus. He certainly wasn’t banned from appearing on The Breakfast Club or Essence Fest. Meanwhile, the Trump-Pence administration is grossly homophobic and transphobic in terms of rhetoric and policy. A plurality of white voters in every major age demographic supported Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Black folks loved President Obama and even when some disagreed with his stance about marriage equality, there wasn’t as much fuss made as what you hear from those racist white evangelicals. So why are Black folks the only ones thus far being truly challenged to confront homophobia within our community with respect to presidential politics?

No matter where Pete Buttigieg goes, he will have to contend with homophobia, and perhaps for some who happen to be Black, nothing can be done to fix that. Yet, if we had to choose between who is responsible for the administration that has endangered the lives of queer and trans people and actively working take away our rights, they look a lot more like Pete’s people than mine. And if Buttigieg did miraculously become president, as a Democrat, he would surely have Black voters to thank.


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