I believe in American belonging because of an experience you are part of right here tonight. Looking out at you and remembering how it felt to be an Indiana teenager, wondering if he would ever belong in this world. Wondering if something deep inside him meant that he would forever be an outsider. That he might never wear the uniform, never be accepted, never even know love. Now that same person is standing in front of you, a mayor, a veteran, happily married, and one step closer to becoming the next president of the United States.
The above is part of Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s speech at the close of the Iowa Democratic Caucus. Despite at the time of writing this that the percentage of precincts reporting is 71%, Buttigieg is leading in the number of delegates. Whether or not you like or support Buttigieg’s campaign, this is a remarkable moment for not only the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana but the LGBTQ community as well.
Like Buttigieg, I remember how it felt when, as teenager in the nineties, I knew I was different from my friends in terms of sexuality. Growing up in rural West Virginia during this time, I was, what seemed like, a world away from anything or anyone connected to being gay. Knowing this, it made me feel like Buttigieg said an outsider. I thought this feeling would go away once I moved away from West Virginia but I was wrong.
After I graduated from high school in 1996, I enlisted in the United States Air Force. The feeling of being an outsider grew more as I realized what I had felt all along, I was gay. It didn’t help matters that I was currently serving in the Air Force during the time Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was in full effect. Feeling the isolation from keeping my sexuality a secret took a toll on me. Compounded with the news from home that my parents were having martial problems, I fell into a state of minor depression. This caused me to briefly contemplate suicide as well as recklessly confide about my sexuality in people I thought could trust.
Of course, the result of was me being separated from the Air Force due to violating DADT. The feeling of being an outsider continued for years even after meeting my now husband in 2000. Now, after hearing Buttigieg’s Iowa speech, I realize it was not fully where I lived that made me feel less like an outsider. It was time and the growing acceptance of the LGBT community among the American public.
The attitude towards the LGBT community in the 1990’s compared to the attitude today is extremely different as evidenced by a number of things including an openly gay man’s rise in popularity as a presidential candidate. Granted, we, the LGBTQ community, still have a long way to go to gain full equality in this country, but if the Iowa Caucus is any indication on what’s to come for us, it shows that we are in a better place today than we were thirty years ago.
Writer’s Note: This is the opinion of one Instinct Magazine contributor and does not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors.