Fred Karger Is Here to Remind You That the First Gay Presidential Hopeful Was a Republican

He isn’t ready to give up his party to homophobia, even though he’ll count himself among Pete Buttigieg’s biggest supporters.

Ever heard about that gay Republican presidential candidate? No? Well, let Fred Karger tell you.

In case you haven’t been following the Twitter mentions of Mike Bloomberg, New York Magazine, and Andrew Sullivan, Karger was the first openly gay major party candidate to run for president. He’s been on a one-man Twitter mission to remind the world of this fact ever since Democrats fell in love with presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, who is, of course, the first openly gay candidate with any real chance of winning the Oval Office.

Karger would like to set the record straight—er, queer—that it’s not Buttigieg who holds this historic first, but himself. Though Karger never made a debate stage during his 2012 run, he was on the ballot as a Republican candidate in six states, and funded his own campaign.

“My sense is that journalists don’t want to recognize the first openly gay candidate as a Republican,” he laments to NewNowNext.

He’s on a mission to correct this one tweet at a time.

If you happen to be among Karger’s 3,216 Twitter followers, you’re aware of his daily shout-outs to media outlets that either steamrolled over his historic run or got the story right.

He regularly refers to himself in third-person, as if he’s his own press secretary—which he might be.

So committed is he to reminding the public about his historic presidential run, just last month he launched “Truth Squad 2020,” a campaign devoted entirely to remembering his 2012 candidacy. He’s even hired a grad student to help him spread awareness and launched in Detroit at the second Democratic debate. At the time of publishing, Truth Squad 2020 has 58 Twitter followers, and 54 Facebook likes.

It would be easy to deride Karger as egocentric, though he freely admits this critique is what motivates him. “Of course, I have a selfish interest in it,” he tells NewNowNext.

But it’s more than that, he notes. He wants the world to understand that the first out candidate was a member of the GOP, not a Democrat. Karger believes in the Republican Party he grew up with, the one that backed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He isn’t ready to give up his party to homophobia, even though he’ll count himself among Buttigieg’s biggest supporters.

“But I wanted to let LGBTQ youth particularly know that there are no barriers anymore,” he says. “I mean, there were no out people when I was growing up. There were some that I assumed were gay, but they were not even out.”

Karger points out that even since he ran, the country has shifted markedly on LGBTQ rights. Marriage equality took effect nationwide a little over four years ago. Midterm elections in 2018 saw record-shattering numbers of LGBTQ people elected to all levels of government in what media dubbed a “Rainbow Wave.”

Paras Griffin/WireImage

Buttigieg is running in a different country than Karger did seven years ago. It’s also a country in the midst of walking back the hard-won advances secured for LGBTQ people under the Obama administration. The Trump administration is rolling back transgender health care protections, backing anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination in cases headed to the Supreme Court, and implementing a ban on transgender service in the military.

Buttigieg has never claimed to be the first out gay major-party candidate, acknowledging Karger both publicly and privately. But as often as Buttigieg has recognized Karger as a “trailblazer” who set the stage for his own run, Karger’s feat has fallen to the wayside. Google Karger and you’ll mostly find his name solely in reference to Buttigieg’s campaign. The country has moved on, and Karger has, too, at least a little: He’s raising money for the South Bend Mayor, doing everything he can to put him in office.

Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images
Newt Gingrich (L) and Karger (R) in 2012.

Karger lobbied hard for Buttigieg to score the endorsement of the Victory Fund, and he feels partly responsible that the LGBTQ political organization announced its support of Buttigieg in June. What Karger still wants is for the Victory Fund to recognize his own campaign and name him as the first out candidate. He keeps asking Annise Parker, the organization’s president and CEO about it.

“I’ve emailed her probably a dozen times in the last month or so,” he says. “I’ve called her. I’ve run into her. I sent her two more emails yesterday and today. I’m waiting for that recognition. And, I mean, what’s the problem?”

Kate Sosin is an award-winning, trans-identified news and investigative reporter.
@shoeleatherkate