First Openly Gay Presidential Candidate (No, Not Pete Buttigieg) to Co-Host a Beverly Hills Fundraiser

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The first openly gay contender for president will be in L.A. on June 19 — and no, it's not Pete Buttigieg, although he'll be in town too. 

Fred Karger, the onetime Welcome Back, Kotter actor who ran in the 2012 Republican primary, has added his name as a co-host for a Buttigieg fundraiser being held at the Beverly Hills home of Ryan Murphy and husband David Miller. Karger, who's been on what he calls a "correction binge" — calling media outlets whenever they falsely report that Buttigieg is the first gay candidate — got involved in the fundraiser after he ran into co-host John Gile at an L.A. gym ("of all places") and volunteered his services.

Karger tells Rambling Reporter that he first met Buttigieg (and husband Chasten Glezman) at the Brooklyn Library Feb. 18 during a stop on the former's book tour. He was so impressed by Buttigieg that he endorsed him, sent in a check and offered to help out with future campaign efforts. 

Months later, he bumped into public relations strategist, consultant and nonprofit expert Gile, who helped make it happen. Karger and his partner Joe Wagner's names now appear alongside other co-hosts including CAA’s Bryan Lourd and husband Bruce Bozzi; CAA's Kevin Huvane; super-producer Greg Berlanti and husband Robbie Rogers; Matt Bomer and husband Simon Halls; Jess Cagle and husband Matt Whitney; casting director Tammy Billik; luxury real estate broker Jonathan London; Duane Cote and Virasb Vahidi; and Gile and partner Jeff Valenson. 

Tickets are going for $2,800 for champion level and $1,500 for advocate level, and Karger says so far that, unlike most political fundraisers, this one is “a very easy” sell.

“I sent out the invite to people I thought could afford it and it took off,” explains Karger, who still identifies as a Republican though he has spent the past 15 years working as an activist for LGBTQ issues. Though he retired from politics, Karger, 69, is now segueing back into Tinseltown, producing a docuseries on the Mormon church. “The excitement with Pete Buttigieg is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and his rise even feels quicker than Barack Obama.”

Karger says voters — and the media — are flocking to him, and he’s never seen anything like it. “He was a blip or an asterisk 13 weeks ago when he announced [an exploratory committee] and he’s come so far since then,” Karger says. “It’s such a big field with 21 candidates now, but he stands out for his way, way, way above average intelligence, compassion and delivery. He doesn’t sound like a politician — the other 21 candidates sound like politicians. Plus, he’s relatable. A pleasant, decent person, and he really exemplifies that. The public is tired of the status quo and wants somebody who is different. He’s as opposite to Donald Trump as you can get.” 

A version of this story appears in the May 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.