Reports that President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Pete Buttigieg as secretary of transportation drew praise Tuesday from prominent LGBTQ+ organizations.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, said Buttigieg’s nomination — he could become the first Senate-approved out LGBTQ+ Cabinet secretary — is “a historic moment for our community.”
Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris are beginning to deliver on a commitment to fill their administration with diverse public servants that include LGBTQ+ people. David told The 19th that he has been advocating for such appointments and nominations on behalf of HRC.
“It is critically important that we have an LGBTQ person serving in a Cabinet level position,” David said. “… And we believe that it is vital to break that barrier. LGBTQ people should not be limited to serving in non-Cabinet level positions. We have qualified, experienced LGBTQ people that work in a variety of industries, and we wanted to make sure that they were reflected in the cabinet of this new administration.”
Richard Grenell, under President Donald Trump’s administration, became the first out LGBTQ+ person to hold a Cabinet position when he served as acting director of National Intelligence for three months this year. The Senate never confirmed his position.
Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was a leading Democratic candidate for president during the party’s 2020 primary. His top finish in the Iowa caucuses in February made him the first out gay candidate in American history to earn presidential primary delegates toward a major party’s nomination process. At 38, he would be among the youngest members of Biden’s Cabinet.
If confirmed, Buttigieg would oversee the nation’s transportation system, including highways and other mass transit.
The Biden administration confirmed reports about the nomination Tuesday night. Buttigieg then posted on Twitter: “This is a moment of tremendous opportunity — to create jobs, meet the climate challenge, and enhance equity for all. I’m honored that the President-elect has asked me to serve our nation as Secretary of Transportation.”
Victory Institute, a sister organization to Victory Fund that supports LGBTQ+ people in public service, said Buttigieg’s nomination has significance for queer people working in government.
“Pete’s nomination is a new milestone in a decades-long effort to ensure LGBTQ people are represented throughout our government — and its impact will reverberate well beyond the department he will lead,” said Annise Parker, president and CEO of Victory Institute in a statement.
Ruben Gonzales, executive director of Victory Institute, said the news has major significance following Trump’s term. LGBTQ+ advocates have pointed out the Trump administration’s record in proposing to remove nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people.
“Anytime that we achieve a historic first like this for our country, you can’t underestimate the impact on policy, but also on the imaginations of LGBTQ people across the country, who are seeing themselves in the Cabinet for the first time,” he told The 19th.
Victory Institute said Buttigieg’s appointment also fulfills one of several goals for the upcoming administration set by the group’s Presidential Appointments Initiative, a coalition of 32 LGBTQ+ and allied organizations. Their other requests: that Biden nominate an out LGBTQ+ U.S. Supreme Court justice; appoint LGBTQ+ women ambassadors, LGBTQ+ ambassadors of color and transgender ambassadors; and ensure LGBTQ+ people “receive equitable representation among presidential appointees and that they reflect the full diversity of the LGBTQ community.” Those appointments would be firsts for any White House administration.
The initiative, first launched during President Bill Clinton’s administration in the 1990s, has worked to make White House administrations more inclusive for LGBTQ+ people.
The initiative estimates that with more than 4,100 appointees, at least 185 LGBTQ+ people must serve at any point to maintain a representation level equal to that of queer people in the U.S. population. It has already provided the Biden administration with hundreds of candidates for positions in the White House.
The initiative for now considers President Barack Obama’s administration the most inclusive White House for LGBTQ+ people. He appointed approximately 330 LGBTQ+ people, according to an estimate from the group. The initiative said it assisted with 158 of those appointments.
David with HRC said advocates are pushing for other LGBTQ+ people to be considered for prominent roles within the administration in the weeks ahead, including Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Andrea Jenkins, who serves on the Minneapolis City Council and is the first Black transgender woman to be elected to public office in the United States.
Both David and Gonzales noted that advocates are particularly supportive of Dr. Rachel Levine, the secretary of health in Pennsylvania who is also a transgender woman.
“We have a number of people that are qualified, that would bring huge benefits to the new administration, and we are engaging with the transition team on making sure that we have a diverse administration,” David said.