Fred Karger, 1st openly gay presidential candidate, shares support for Pete Buttigieg

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- You've heard of presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, but before the South Bend mayor, there was Southern California's Fred Karger.

Karger has been on a mission to make sure history gets it right. While some have labeled Buttigieg - a Democrat - as the first openly gay presidential candidate, Karger explains he was the first, running as a Republican in 2012.

"So it's important that LGBT history be told correctly, and that's a big part of why I'm doing this," Karger said.

He grew up in Chicago and became an actor in Los Angeles. He appeared in shows like "McMillan & Wife," then worked as a political strategist for decades. He came out to friends and family at age 41.

"I'd had a gay uncle who committed suicide when I was 21. It really affected me. I figured that's how I would end my life eventually," Karger said.

Karger is now an LGBTQ activist supporting those running for office regardless of political party, so it's no surprise the Republican is backing the 37-year-old war veteran.

"When somebody like Pete came along -- who not only, you know, represents a lot of my values but is just what I think we need in this crazy chaos of Washington -- is a calming, stable, thoughtful, bright influence," Karger said.

And it seems the respect is mutual. The two had a chance to meet at a book signing Buttigieg held in Brooklyn.

Karger is co-hosting an upcoming fundraiser for Buttigieg at the home of mega-producer Ryan Murphy. After being a Republican for nearly 50 years, he's willing to leave the party in order to cast a vote for Buttigieg in the upcoming California presidential primary.

Looking back at his own journey as a gay man and presidential candidate, he says watching Buttigieg on a national stage has been emotional.

"Hearing him speak with that huge crowd and all the attention he was getting, and then watching his husband come out... at the end -- the embrace, the kiss," Karger said. "That's when I started sobbing tears of joy."
Copyright © 2020 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.