By John Whitesides
DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – Democrat Pete Buttigieg, running to become the first openly gay U.S. president, told activists at an Iowa Pride festival on Saturday there was “no going back to normal” in fighting discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
Buttigieg, speaking at a rally on the steps outside the Iowa state capitol in Des Moines, said rights for the community were still under threat from Republican President Donald Trump, and he warned against complacency.
“Don’t listen to anybody in either party who says we can just go back to what we were doing,” Buttigieg told a crowd celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a ban on same-sex marriages.
“We know that the struggle is not over, not even close. At a time like today when you can still be legally fired in so many parts of this country because of who you are or who you love, we have work to do,” he said.
Buttigieg was one of 10 Democrats who took part in some of the festivities at a Pride festival in Des Moines, an indication of the community’s growing importance in an increasingly diverse party and a gauge of its clout in a Democratic presidential nominating race with more than 20 candidates.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand served drinks at a gay bar in Des Moines, former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke participated in a morning 5K Pride run, and Buttigieg spoke at a dinner honoring Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard, who was beaten to death in 1998 for being gay.
A half-dozen other Democratic candidates, including U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, spoke at a presidential forum. Nearly all expressed support for the Equality Act, a bill to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and condemned Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military.
Sanders and O’Rourke said Supreme Court decisions legalizing same-sex marriage in Iowa and nationally were the result of a sea change in public attitudes.
“The credit should not be given principally to those Supreme Court justices who made those decisions, but to every single person who for decades has been marching and struggling and fighting for their full civil rights in this country,” O’Rourke said.
Added Sanders: “Change is never from the top down, it is from the bottom up.”
The appearances at the Pride festival are part of a busy political weekend in Iowa, capped by speeches from 19 Democratic contenders at a party dinner in Cedar Rapids on Sunday. Iowa kicks off the state-by-state race for the 2020 nomination next February.
Buttigieg said gay rights activists should welcome those who have changed their minds on the issue and become more accepting. Only seven years ago President Barack Obama reversed his position and decided to support same-sex marriage.
“There are millions of Americans who today are not proud of what they believed yesterday about us, but we ought to make them proud of the fact they came on to the right side of history,” he said.
Americans who have experienced the pain of discrimination over gender identity and sexuality were in a unique position to lead the fight for a more inclusive society, Buttigieg said.
“We in the LGBTQ community know when we hear phrases like ‘Make America Great Again’ that that American past was never quite as great as advertised,” Buttigieg said, referencing Trump’s campaign slogan.
(Editing by Leslie Adler)