In this op-ed series published exclusively on Out.com, members of the LGBTQ+ community discuss their support for the major contenders in the 2020 presidential primaries. Participating candidates include Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Julián Castro, Michael Bloomberg, and Cory Booker, and one editorial will be published every weekday. The editorials in this series do not reflect the views of Out magazine or its editors.
In today’s installment, LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada President Joe Oddo, Jr. tells us why he believes Pete Buttigieg should be the next president of the United States.
In 1992, the LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada became the first public safe space for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people in Las Vegas. Since then, thousands of LGBTQ+ people have come to the Center in need of help and search of belonging.
Eight years ago, I walked into the Center for a business meeting and walked out a dedicated volunteer. Over the years, my day job has put food on my kitchen table, but the Center has fed my soul. After Donald Trump was elected, feeling scared and in need of support, I grew even more involved in the Center, eventually being elected its president, which I am honored to serve as today.
The Center has become a fixture of progress in the state, but two recent incidents reminded us that the fight for equality is far from over. Last summer, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, someone attempted to set fire to the building. And then in September, the Center’s front door was vandalized with an anti-gay slur. Fortunately, no one was hurt either time, but these attacks were stark reminders that in our current political climate, LGBTQ+ people are increasingly vulnerable to violence and acts of hate.
I found that my faith in our country and in my community was shaken. The sense of belonging I found at the Center all those years ago was starting to disappear, and instead fear was taking its place.
On a particularly low day after the second attack, I received a phone call from an unknown Indiana number. After answering incredulously, a familiar voice responded on the other end, “Hey Joe! This is Chasten Buttigieg.”
In my role at the Center, I’ve met many politicians and their spouses, but this call was different. With genuine care and compassion in his voice, Chasten asked how we were doing and what we needed. He ended the call with a promise to visit soon, and two weeks later, there he was — walking in through that same door that had been defaced with hatred. There was no agenda to his visit, no press around. He didn’t bring an entourage or ask for a photo op. Chasten understood that when one of us is attacked, we all have a responsibility to show up, and that is exactly what he did.
Like Chasten and Pete, my husband and I were married in an Episcopal church following the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. We adopted our two teenage children four years ago, and our family unit is the most important thing in my life. But families like mine are constantly vilified by our current president. This month, the Trump administration committed an egregious attack on LGBTQ+ families everywhere by reinstating a rule that would allow foster care and adoption agencies to deny their services to families on religious grounds.
When weighing who to personally support in the Democratic primary, I thought of my children. Malaya and Zayn are 13 and 12, and the next several years of their life will determine the kind of adults they grow into and the opportunities they have. Will they grow up in a country where they don’t feel free or safe due to their different backgrounds? Or will they look at the family in the White House and feel like they fully belong?
People in search of acceptance come to the Center everyday. By opening our doors and giving them a safe space, we show them that they belong. I want a country for my kids that is able to do the same — that provides for and looks after every human being, regardless of their sexuality, gender identity, race, religion, or zipcode. That protects them from the gun violence epidemic and impending climate crisis. That shows them that they are not just part of but integral to the American fabric.
On the campaign trail, Pete often talks about his own experiences with exclusion and how they mirror America’s “crisis of belonging.” To him, the presidency is about “creating that sense of belonging where so many now feel only isolation.” It’s not merely rhetoric. In all of his policies, from plans on climate change to national service, Pete is pushing for inclusive, bold solutions that requires everyone coming together to build a better future. On top of this, Pete has put forward an incredibly comprehensive proposal supporting LGBTQ+ individuals and communities in every aspect of their daily lives, from equitable health care to workplace protection, and from tackling the crisis of belonging in this country to stepping up to be a global leader on LGBTQ+ rights.
When I was at my lowest, Chasten and Pete showed me, my family, and the Center that we do belong in this great American project. Their empathy, vision, and leadership is exactly what we need in our next First Family.
Joseph S. Oddo, Jr. is a Regional Manager for the West Coast Region of Cox Business Inside Sales. in 2016, Joe joined the Board of Directors for The Center and in 2017, was elected unanimously to Vice President. During the November meeting of the Board of Directors, Joe was again voted on unanimously, this time to serve as President. Joe is married to his husband Timothy, who have been together since 2009.