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Pete Buttigieg has little black support. Don’t blame homophobia

His weak record on civil rights is the main barrier for black voters

Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks to residents during a campaign stop at the VFW club in Algona, Iowa, on Monday.Scott Olson/Getty

During his tenure as mayor of South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg has mostly ignored the concerns of communities of color. In kind, black voters nationwide are mostly ignoring him as a Democratic presidential candidate.

But, sure, Boy George, blame homophobia.

“Sad to hear that older black voters in South Carolina have issue with @PeteButtigieg living with his husband,” he tweeted Sunday.

It’s not just that I doubt the faded 1980s singer’s vast experience with the ways of older black folks in South Carolina. It’s that he’s resurrecting a rancid narrative, especially among some white gay men, about the pervasiveness of black homophobia.


A recent New York Times story suggested Buttigieg’s sexuality may be a hurdle for some socially conservative African-Americans in South Carolina, which holds its primary in February. An internal campaign memo came to a similiar conclusion. In an effort to build black support, Buttigieg released his “Douglass Plan,” named for abolitionist and civil rights icon Frederick Douglass, to address racial inequality and dismantle systemic racism.

Yes, Buttigieg’s sexuality and his marriage to his husband, Chasten, may be a problem for some voters, regardless of their race. Yet the greater barrier for the young mayor in garnering African-American support is likely his weak record on civil rights, racial inclusion, and police accountability.

Soon after he took office in 2012, Buttigieg demoted Darryl Boykins, South Bend’s first black police chief. Boykins had been accused of secretly taping phone calls of senior white officers to prove patterns of racist language within the department. Boykins was replaced by a white man, and in a city that is more than 40 percent black and Latinx, its police force remains 90 percent white.

Then in June, Eric Logan, a 54-year-old black man was shot to death by Sgt. Ryan O’Neill, a white officer, who claims Logan was brandishing a knife. O’Neill was wearing a body camera — but it was turned off. Buttigieg briefly left his campaign to return to his city, but black residents were unswayed by his sudden concern, especially after past accusations of police misconduct have been overlooked or lightly addressed.


That’s the message that has followed Buttigieg on the campaign trail, and that’s why his support among black and Latinx potential voters is abysmal. Buttigieg may arrogantly believe this is “getting to be a two-way race” between himself and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, but the only path to the Democratic nomination is with black and brown support — something Buttigieg is sorely lacking.

‘Pete Buttigieg has mostly ignored the concerns of communities of color. In kind, black voters nationwide are mostly ignoring him as a Democratic presidential candidate.’

Because America never learns when it comes to racism, this is reminiscent of the ignorance peddled by Dan Savage, a gay columnist, in 2008. When California’s Proposition 8 outlawing gay marriage passed that year, Savage falsely claimed black people, who flocked to polls to elect the first black president, were to blame.

“I’m done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there . . . are a bigger problem for African-Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African-Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color,” Savage wrote in a column titled “Black Homophobia.” (That piece seemed to have been scrubbed, but since the Internet never forgets, its most inflammatory quotes live on in cyber perpetuity.)

As a member of the LGBTQ community, let me just say there are way more than a “handful of racist gay white men out there,” and that I’ve faced far more racism from them than I’ve faced homophobia in the black community.


Savage’s racist attack was laid to waste by facts, and he offered a wan apology of sorts that came nowhere close to undoing his lies and the damage done.

Buttigieg’s campaign is distancing itself from claims of black homophobia. Nina Smith, who is black and his traveling press secretary, tweeted Monday that “Any supporter pushing this homophobia narrative isn’t a true supporter of Pete.”

Yet expect to hear more of this rancid blame narrative from Buttigieg’s white gay advocates. Instead of acknowledging how Buttigieg has failed his black South Bend constituents, or the understandable leeriness in voting for a man whose only political experience is being the mayor of the fourth largest city in Indiana, they will continue to insist the fault lies in the ways of black people, not the candidate himself.

Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @reneeygraham.