America May Have a Gay President Sooner Than You Think


A new national survey reveals that Americans may be ready to elect their first out gay or lesbian president in the near future, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

In a poll of 1,501 adults, ages 18 or older and living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, 66% said that it "wouldn't matter" if a presidential candidate were gay or lesbian. Just seven years ago, Pew Research notes, that figure hovered at 51%.

So what's going on here? The exponential increase in support coincides with a rapid sea change regarding Americans' views of the LGBT community.

Image Credit: Pew Research Center

There are a few qualifying observations to make about this new survey, which suggests a level of support similar to the general population's rising approval of marriage equality. Just this month, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and, as of Tuesday, Pennsylvania legalized marriage equality. As Mother Jones notes, "Of the nearly two-dozen states that recognize some form of same-sex unions, more than half joined the pack in just the past two years." The domino effect predicted following the landmark Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 last summer seems to finally be coming true.

However, it's important to note that this survey only asks about a "gay or lesbian" candidate, so not, in actuality, an LGBT candidate. This overlooks the bi and trans communities. It also glosses over the difference between gay and lesbian. In a political climate that continues to struggle with sexism, the difference of gender is a very significant one.

As illustrated in the below bar graph chart, "woman" is included as a "presidential trait," indicating, of course, that "men" is the neutral opposite, or rather, the given. While the figures suggest being a woman "doesn't matter," which can seemingly be taken as "I wouldn't hold it against them," 9% of those surveyed still said that they would be "less likely" to vote for a woman.  

Image Credit: Pew Research Center

When taking other traits into consideration, it's not too difficult to guess which type of gay or lesbian candidate would be most palatable to the American electorate: a white male, under the age of 70, who served in the military and who had some political experience holding office. (This phenomenon of the non-threatening gay man pervades other aspects of our culture as well, advertising being a perfect example.)

The Victory Fund, an organization founded in 1991 that funds gay and lesbian candidates at all levels, lists seven out individuals at the congressional level. Only two are women, and only one — Mark Takano of California — is a person of color.  

The Pew Center's poll offers a sense of optimism, while at the same time it makes us wonder who precisely America envisions as their optimal "gay or lesbian" presidential candidate.

On the other hand, the question of whether Americans are ready for its first gay president overlooks a pretty large elephant in the room. That elephant's name is James Buchanan, the 15th president of the United States, who many scholars now agree was openly gay during his tenure in the White House. Tellingly, while arguably a trailblazer for gay politicians, Buchanan was, all things considered, also white and male.

Image Credit: Wikimedia