Tulsi Gabbard From Childhood To Political Star

The following article includes references to anti-LGBTQ+ comments.

In the wake of her exit from the Democratic Party — which we'll dive into below — American politician Tulsi Gabbard has continued to deal her political cards. During an October 2022 campaign speech for Don Bolduc, the republican candidate in the upcoming Senate election in New Hampshire, Gabbard called out President Joe Biden, making a controversial comparison between his and Adolf Hitler leadership styles. "Throughout history, we look at authoritarian leaders and dictators in other countries. ... I'm pretty sure they all believe they're doing what's best," she said in an audio recording obtained by the Daily Beast. "Even Hitler thought he was doing what was best for Germany, right? For the German race. In his own mind, he found a way to justify the means to meet his end."

For her part, Gabbard — who first grabbed the country's attention in the early 2000s — has worked her way to the top of the ladder, occupying different public positions through the years. By the age of 41, at the time of this writing, she has been a congresswoman, a presidential candidate, and a few other things in between. Speaking to CNN's Van Jones on her interest in public service, Gabbard revealed how growing up in Hawaii shaped her to always look out for others as she would her brothers and sisters. "I gradually experienced even from a young age that I was most happy when I was doing things to help other people," she added.

Clearly dedicated to service, here's a look at Tulsi Gabbard's impressive journey from childhood to political star.

Tulsi Gabbard was born to multicultural parents

The second youngest of five children, Tulsi Gabbard was born to multicultural parents on April 12, 1981, in Tutuila, American Samoa's largest Island, per Biography. Her mother, Carol Porter Gabbard, grew up in Michigan. Her father, Mike Gabbard, of Samoan and European ancestry, was born in American Samoa but spent most of his childhood in Hawaii and Florida. Perhaps growing up with this cultural mix made up for a well-grounded childhood.

Tulsi's parents recalled homeschooling their kids, using even situations like camping to teach them valuable life lessons. "Get the tent set up, and then it was, 'Okay, let's clean up," Mike told Hawaii News Now in 2013. "Then we went out and started picking up stuff on the beach." Carol chimed in with, "While we're looking for firewood, you pick up the trash, too." This approach, it appears, paid off in the long run. These days, Mike and Carol can speak to their politician daughter's core values without doubts in their hearts. "We know her intelligence. We know her strength. We know her courage. We know her humility," Mike said, with Carol adding, "It's there. It's real. And I think that's what makes the difference."

She embraced Hinduism in her teenage years

Not only are Tulsi Gabbard's parents, Mike and Carol Gabbard, from different cultures, but the couple also share different religious views. While Mike is Catholic, Carol practices Hinduism — but despite the differences that may abound, the couple seems to have found a way to share in their beliefs and make things work. "I go to mass now and then," Carol told Hawaii News Now. "And he participates in different religious holidays that we observe, like Janmashtami." 

For her part, Tulsi also touched on this during a 2019 appearance on Lewis Howes' "The School of Greatness Podcast," where she cited God as her greatest influence and credited her parents for teaching her and her siblings to be grounded in their faith. "They taught us the meaning of real religion, that it's not about choosing one church or temple or synagogue over another ... real religion is love for God," she said. 

Tulsi — whose name (as well as her siblings') is of Hindu origin — began identifying more with Hinduism during her teenage years, making her the first-ever member of Congress to be of this faith.

Chris Butler's teachings shaped her beliefs

In 1977, Chris Butler (otherwise called Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa) founded the Science of Identity Foundation (SIF), a Hindu organization that has since amassed millions of followers across the world, one of whom is Tulsi Gabbard. "Muslims have imams, Christians have pastors, Hindus have gurus, so he's essentially like a Vaishnava Hindu pastor," Gabbard told The New York Times of Butler in 2019. "And he's shared some really beautiful meditation practices with me that have provided me with strength and shelter and peace." 

Butler has, however, not been without controversies, as SIF has in the past been dubbed a cult whose teachings were allegedly misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ+, and largely unhealthy. A former member of the group also claimed to the Independent that they were sometimes forced to worship Butler and his beliefs. But despite these allegations surrounding Butler supposedly leading with an authoritative stance and fostering a harsh environment among members, Gabbard has had nothing but good things to say about the man she once described as her spiritual master. 

"I've never heard him say anything hateful or say anything mean about anybody," she explained in a 2017 interview with The New Yorker. "I can speak to my own personal experience and, frankly, my gratitude to him for the gift of this wonderful spiritual practice that he has given to me and to so many people."

Tulsi Gabbard was once anti-LGBTQ+

These days, Tulsi Gabbard is supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, but not too long ago, she was on the other side of the struggle for gay rights. Admittedly influenced by his Catholic faith, Tulsi's father, Mike Gabbard, began advocating against homosexuality in the '90s, openly sharing his views with all who cared to listen, as demonstrated in a 1992 interview with Honolulu magazine. Mike launched different anti-LGBTQ+ projects, including the Alliance for Traditional Marriage and Values, an anti-gay organization that influenced the Hawaiian legislature to make an amendment against same-sex marriage.

In 2002, while campaigning for the state legislature, Tulsi revealed that she too had worked to support her father's controversial cause. "Working with my father, Mike Gabbard, and others to pass a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage, I learned that real leaders are willing to make personal sacrifices for the common good," Tulsi told Honolulu Star-Bulletin at the time. "I will bring that attitude of public service to the legislature." 

However, in the years that have since passed, Tulsi's stance on the LGBTQ+ community has thankfully changed. In a 2019 statement to CNN Politics, Tulsi expressed regret for her past homophobic comments and political positions, adding, "I'm grateful for those in the LGBTQ+ community who have shared their aloha with me throughout my personal journey."

The politician made history at 21

In 2002, Tulsi Gabbard was only a student at Leeward Community College. And then she was not. Later in the year, she dropped out to run for a seat on the Hawaiian state legislature and won, making United States history as the youngest female ever elected as a state legislator, per Insider. And even though there were doubts about her abilities at the time, Gabbard was certain she was meant to live a life of service. "A lot of people told me I was crazy and too young, but I really felt the need and passion to do more with my life and be able to make a positive impact for others," she once said, as reported by The Atlantic.

According to ABC News, Gabbard also served as a member of the Honolulu City Council between 2010 and 2012. During this time, she racked up a number of successes, including the introduction of a measure making it easier for food trucks to operate without facing as many parking restrictions. "Small business owners can continue to serving ono food to their customers and can do so without looking over their shoulder fearing criminal prosecution," Gabbard told Khon 2 at the time.

Tulsi Gabbard has had a lengthy military career

Only a year into her tenure as a state legislator, Tulsi Gabbard joined the Hawaii Army National Guard in 2003. "In history, some generations have been given everything, and now in this generation where there's a war on terrorism, I'm honored to have the opportunity to give something," Gabbard said at the time (via The Honolulu Advertiser). "I promise my constituents that my service to the military will not in any way get in the way of my serving them."

The following year, Gabbard volunteered to deploy to Iraq as a medical specialist with the Hawaii Army National Guard, leaving her no other choice but to forfeit re-election. "I was sure that there was no way I would stay home and watch my brothers and sisters deploy," Gabbard told The Economic Times of her decision to go with the soldiers. "So I stepped away from my seat in the state legislature, [and] volunteered to deploy on this 18-month-long deployment to Iraq."

Over time, Gabbard continued rising in ranks, getting a promotion from captain to major in 2015, per The Washington Times, and then from major to lieutenant colonel in July 2021.

She also had a long run in the House of Representatives

In May 2011, Tulsi Gabbard announced her decision to run for Hawaii's 2nd Congressional district seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. "I have a sincere desire to be of service to all the people of Hawaii, and I'm confident that I will serve you well," Gabbard said in her announcement, per Khon 2. "I have the experience, the energy, and the determination to fight for you, our beautiful Hawai'i, and our great country. I would be honored if you would allow me to serve you in Washington." Gabbard would go on to win the general election, making her the first-ever Samoan-American to get elected in Congress. According to CNN, she also doubled as the first Hindu to be sworn in, as previously stated.

Gabbard contested for a second term in 2014, defeating opponent Kawika Crowley in a landslide win, as reported by Deccan Herald. In her second round in the House, Gabbard championed a bill that sought to honor Filipino and Filipino-Americans who served during World War II. President Barack Obama signed the bill, termed "Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015" into law in December 2016, according to Inquirer.net.

Gabbard would go on to serve for third and fourth terms in Congress, racking up many more notable achievements until 2021, including the introduction of the Off Fossil Fuels (OFF) Act in 2015, per Insider

Tulsi Gabbard got married – twice

Tulsi Gabbard has been busy serving her constituents for decades, but the former congresswoman was not too busy for love. Back in 2002, Gabbard got married to her childhood sweetheart, Eduardo Tamayo. Sadly, the union was short-lived. The couple divorced in 2006, following her return from an 18-month deployment in Iraq. "It was sad and difficult, but unfortunately, not an uncommon story for people who go through being separated for nearly two years," Gabbard told Vogue in 2013. "The stress that's placed on those who are left at home — it's difficult to communicate what that means." Still, this politician was not one to give up.

The four-term congresswoman found love again in Abraham Williams, a cinematographer she met in 2012 during her first campaign for Congress. "About a year and a half later, he asked me out for the first time at a birthday party that a mutual friend of ours threw me," Gabbard revealed to The New York Times in 2015. "It was the first time that we had a chance to kick back, relax, and really talk on a personal level." Three years after meeting, Gabbard and Williams were married in a Hawaiian-themed Hindu ceremony. "It was far beyond what I dreamed of," a love-stricken Gabbard gushed to People. "Literally, it was perfect."

Her controversial tenure with the DNC

During her time in Congress, Tulsi Gabbard also served on the Democratic National Committee. In 2013, she was elected vice chair, but while her term was supposed to last four years, it lasted only three due to some controversies.

Ahead of the 2016 general election, Gabbard publicly criticized then-DNC chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, for her decision to hold only six debates for the Democratic Party presidential primaries. "We are the party that represents democratic principles, openness, and transparency, and ensuring that all people, regardless of who they are or where they are from, have a level playing field and equal opportunity," Gabbard wrote in a Facebook post (via Politico).

A few weeks later, Gabbard claimed she had been sidelined from attending the first presidential debate. "Basically, they said if you're going to continue to disagree with the chairwoman's decision, it would be best if you not go," she alleged on MSNBC (via Hawaii News Now). "It's a petty and very immature way to react." While the DNC denied the claim, The Intercept reported that Gabbard also accused Schultz of favoring candidate Hillary Clinton, thus flouting the committee's neutrality rule. In a twist of events, Gabbard eventually publicly resigned from her position as vice chair to endorse Senator Bernie Sanders in his presidential campaign.

The politician's 2020 presidential aspiration

During a January 2019 appearance on CNN's "The Van Jones Show," Tulsi Gabbard confirmed her plans to run for president of the United States in the 2020 election. "There are a lot of reasons for me to make this decision," she revealed, adding that she would be focusing on concerns like climate change, health care access, and criminal justice reform. "There is one main issue that is central to the rest, and that is the issue of war and peace," Gabbard added. "I look forward to being able to get into this and to talk about it in depth when we make our announcement."

Later that month, Gabbard officially launched her campaign and then went on to participate in the Democratic Party's first and second primary debates. Notably, per The Hill, during one of the debates, Gabbard made headlines for calling out future Vice President Kamala Harris' controversial prosecution record of drug-related crimes. Yet, despite what seemed to be a promising start, the four-time congresswoman struggled to keep up with other high-profile contenders, including Joe Biden. In March 2020, Gabbard shared in a video on Twitter, "Today, I'm suspending my presidential campaign and offering my full support to Vice President Joe Biden in his quest to bring our country together."

Tulsi Gabbard's surprising exit from the Democratic Party

In October 2022, Tulsi Gabbard released the first episode of "The Tulsi Gabbard Show," where she shared surprising news — her exit from the Democratic Party. Claiming that the party was causing division by, in part, racializing issues, Gabbard alleged, "I believe in a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people. Unfortunately, today's Democrat Party does not. Instead, they stand for a government of, by, and for the powerful elite."

Though she has always run with the democratic ticket, Gabbard has historically held quite a number of conservative views contrary to the party's beliefs, as reported by The Guardian. While she has yet to officially announce her new political affiliation, as of this writing, the former congresswoman has stirred up rumors of going republican after publicly endorsing Donald Trump supporter Kari Lake's gubernatorial aspiration in Arizona. "It's only odd if you're focused on the wrong things," Gabbard said of the shocking endorsement, per ABC News. "If you're paying attention, you recognize that what we share in common, Kari and I and every one of you, is that pride, and it is the courage. ... It is clear eyes to recognize the threats to our safety, to our borders, to our communities, to our families and our kids that are coming from today's so-called woke radical Democrat Party."

Seemingly one to bask in the midst of controversies, American politics will undoubtedly be seeing more of Tulsi Gabbard in years to come.