Pete Buttigieg has become the first out LGBT+ person confirmed to serve in a Cabinet position, gaining overwhelming support for his nomination as Joe Biden’s transportation secretary.
The Senate voted by 86 to 13 to approve the former South Bend mayor and one-time presidential hopeful to the role, after gaining strong backing from Democrats and Republicans alike.
With 86 votes in favour, Buttigieg is the second-most popular of Biden’s nominees so far in the Senate, behind only retired general and incoming defense secretary Lloyd Austin.
His appointment makes him the first out LGBT+ person to ever hold a full-time Cabinet post, though controversial Trump loyalist Richard Grenell previously filled a seat temporarily on an acting basis. Grenell was not offered a permanent post or put forward for Senate confirmation.
The vote to confirm his nomination puts Buttigieg, a Democratic rising star with continued ambitions to seek high office, in charge of a department with a $72 billion budget and 58,000-strong workforce.
Buttigieg is expected to play a critical part in pushing Biden‘s progressive agenda of restoring the country’s infrastructure and, crucially, fulfilling the president’s climate change promises – a key plank of his pledges.
Pete Buttigieg’s Senate confirmation celebrated as a ‘milestone moment’ for LGBT+ rights
LGBT+ campaigners celebrated the milestone as the confirmation vote passed.
Annise Parker of LGBTQ Victory Institute, which works to support queer representation in politics, said: “Pete shattered a centuries-old political barrier with overwhelming bipartisan support and that paves the way for more LGBTQ Americans to pursue high-profile appointments.
“Pete testifying at his confirmation hearing, with his husband looking on, will be among the powerful images that define this unprecedented political moment and will be remembered as a milestone in America’s move toward social justice.
“While his confirmation is historic, Pete is focused on the difficult task ahead. America is in desperate need of a revitalised transportation effort and his two terms as mayor provide the experience and perspective needed to propose bold solutions. Americans are fortunate to have Pete as their secretary of transportation.”
Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David added: “Congratulations to secretary Pete Buttigieg on his historic confirmation. This confirmation breaks through a barrier that has existed for too long; where LGBTQ identity served as an impediment to nomination or confirmation at the highest level of government.
“Let this important moment for our movement serve as a reminder to every LGBTQ young person: you too can serve your country in any capacity you earn the qualifications to hold.
“President Biden promised to deliver an administration representative of the diversity of this nation, and this confirmation is a significant achievement toward that goal. I look forward to working with secretary Pete Buttigieg and the entire Biden cabinet.”
John Zody, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said: “Buttigieg is a true example of what it means to have all voices – including LGBTQ Americans – at the table, and he’ll be an inspiration for so many who until this moment may have believed certain dreams were not possible.”
Former presidential hopeful paid tribute to his husband during confirmation hearing
Buttigieg acknowledged his husband in his confirmation hearing earlier this month, telling the senators: “I want to thank president Biden for trusting me with this nomination, and I’d like to take a moment to introduce my husband, Chasten Buttigieg, who is here with me today.
“I am proud to have him by my side. I want to take this chance to thank him for his many sacrifices and his support in making it possible for me to pursue public service.”
He also publicly reflected on the historical importance of his appointment, noting the different climate in the Senate when the nation’s first openly gay ambassador, James Hormel, was appointed by Bill Clinton.
Buttigieg said: “I can remember watching the news at 17 years old, in Indiana, and seeing a story about an appointee of president Clinton named to be an ambassador, attacked and denied a vote in the Senate because he was gay, ultimately able to serve only by recess appointment.
“At the time I had no aspirations of being appointed by a president to anything at that age, I was hoping to be an airline pilot, and I was a long way from coming out even to myself.
“But still, I watched that story and I learned something about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed to belong. Just as important, I saw how those limits, could be challenged.”
He added: “Two decades later, I can’t help but think of a 17 year old somewhere who might be watching us right now.
“Somebody who wonders whether and where they belong in the world, or even in their own family. And I’m thinking about the message that today’s announcement is sending to them.”