Supporters of Pete Buttigieg were often indignant toward liberal perceptions that he was “the wrong type of gay,” without many recognizing his candidacy was the wet dream of one of the first sets of Americans to suggest there was a right type of homosexual. Until the final act of his failed presidential campaign, Mayor Pete waged revenge for respectability.

One of the more enduring legacies of the Annual Reminder – a picket for gay and lesbian employment rights staged at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall every Fourth of July from 1965-69 – was the dress code, and the misguided belief that our wardrobe was the key to winning sympathy for our cause. Lesbian members of the Daughters of Bilitis were costumed in dresses while the gay men of the Mattachine Society and Janus Society were decked in white button-downs, ties and other apparel intended to project the radical conformity of homosexual Americans.

As heroic as these early gestures on behalf of gay and lesbian dignity were, attention and allies would not arrive for our movement until queer folks started setting shit on fire. The New York chapter of the Mattachine Society had been making inroads with the city’s new mayoral administration when the Stonewall Riots erupted in 1969, and some Mattachine leaders initially feared the uprising would dampen any budding tolerance for homosexual rights.

The organization’s establishmentarian tendencies were immortalized on a plywood sign erected in a broken-out window of the Stonewall Inn in between queer clashes with police: “We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village – Mattachine.” The final Annual Reminder was held a few days after the Stonewall Riots, and the once revolutionary Mattachine Society soon became a historic footnote on the futility of playing nice.

LGBTQ criticism of Buttigieg was regularly dismissed as millennial wokeness run amok, but tension over the public image of queer folks has been a part of our movement since the streets of the Village were still smoldering. It’s deliciously ironic for someone other than a drag queen, leather daddy or sassy sissy to be accused of reflecting poorly on our community.

Historian David Carter divides the queer patrons being arrested at Stonewall into two camps: those willing to endure police mistreatment in order to protect their middle-class existence, and those so marginalized their humanity was all that was at stake. The late stages of Buttigieg’s campaign felt like a defense of the Stonewall customers who were reluctant to rise up against a system that endowed them with Ivy League educations and Rhodes scholarships and the rarified dream of going from small-town mayor to president of these United States.

Explicitly rejecting the revolutionary politics that made it possible for him to run for president as a married gay man turned a credible, inspiring campaign into a farce. It’s unclear if the most historic vestige of Buttigieg’s first presidential bid will be his sexual orientation, or the unification that started with the suspension of his campaign and ended with most Democrats’ fifth-favorite candidate emerging as the presumptive nominee.

History has been ambivalent toward the Mattachine Society’s mindset and tactics, but those trailblazers received a bit of redemption via a modern presidential campaign almost singularly committed to proving gay people are not a threat to the American way.

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