In Pete’s Words: Coming Out (2019)

For National Coming Out Day, the 2020 candidate discusses his identity—and his vision for the White House.

By Pete Buttigieg – Oct 11, 2019 (, abridged)

I began my career when you could either be out, or serve in major political office—not both.

Coming out is a difficult step for anyone. It requires that you summon the courage to share your truth with family, friends, and community. And it requires you to stand on the hope that you will be accepted, and the faith that you can overcome any rejection that may await. For me, there was no getting around the fact that it would be…complicated.

When I told my campaign staff that I was ready to come out, and sought to do so before the election, the bemused looks on their faces confirmed they were personally supportive but could not predict the consequences. After all, you can’t exactly run a poll asking what voters will think if they know their mayor is gay. I had no choice but to speak up and see what would happen. Would the people in my socially conservative community embrace me and continue to judge me based on the job that I was doing for them? Or would they turn on me, unable to look past the fact that who I was was something they had been brought up to reject?

During a two-week reserve training stint at the Defense Intelligence Agency—far from the fast pace and scrutiny of the Mayor’s office—I took advantage of the relative peace and quiet. I spent evenings drafting a short column for the South Bend Tribune coming out to my community. Part of me was irritated by the idea I had to do this at all (after all, straight people don’t have to “come out”), but part of me also realized the benefits of being able to do—simply and all at once— what many others have to over the course of dozens of phone calls, cups of coffee, and other conversations with people in their lives. I had told my parents and a few close friends already. The rest of the process, for me, would be as simple as hitting “send.”

At six in the morning on June 16th, 2015, the piece was posted online. Unusually for me, I hadn’t slept well. I was lifting weights in my basement when text messages started coming in from friends, roughly in the order they awoke. By and large, the responses from everyone in my personal and professional lives fell into two categories: those who told me they were supportive, and those who found a way to let me know that they didn’t care. I appreciated both kinds of response.

As you can imagine, a few reactions were more passionate. On one end, a local fringe activist formed a fledgling group and held a press conference claiming that I was going to destroy our system of government. On the other hand, I received hundreds of emails from LGBTQ+ Americans—ranging from a kid in a conservative part of the state to someone I served alongside in Afghanistan—saying how much it meant to them that I came out.

When it came time for my reelection later that year, our fears were unfounded. Instead of judging me based on who I might love, the people of South Bend judged me on my track record of turning around the city. I had trusted them, and they decided to trust me in return—reelecting me with 80 percent of the vote.

After I found my way to my husband Chasten, our city embraced him just as readily; one couple even stopped him at the grocery store to give him an earful about potholes and trash pickup. On June 16, 2018, we were married at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. James in South Bend, stopping by South Bend Pride Week after the ceremony. And one of the best parts of this campaign has been seeing the country fall in love with the man I love.

I’d be lying if I said that Chasten and I have completely escaped homophobia on the campaign trail. But the overall reception I’ve received shows that the American people are ready to continue to move in the right direction. At the same time, as we mark National Coming Out Day, I know that for far too many LGBTQ+ Americans, their act of hope is a leap of faith, with no guarantee that they’ll receive the support they need.

They know that they’d be coming out in a world where four out of five LGBTQ+ youth feel down or depressed, almost half report feeling worthless, and almost all have trouble sleeping. Currently, they see that their president has deemed transgender people unfit to serve in our military, and that nearly one in two transgender people have considered suicide. They realize that they are disproportionately more likely to be targeted by hate crimes, more likely to be incarcerated, and more likely to experience homelessness.

So I want every LGBTQ+ person to know that when I’m president, I will have your back. We will put forward solutions big enough to meet all of the challenges the LGBTQ+ community faces, while bringing the American people together to understand that our freedoms are bound up in each other.

As president, I will push for the Equality Act and sign it as soon as it hits my desk, making anti-discrimination the law of the land. Through my Medicare For All Who Want It plan, I’ll deliver quality health care that is affordable, accessible, and equitable for all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. My administration will put us on a path to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic—which disproportionately affects gay men and trans women of color—by 2030 and ban the harmful practice known as “conversion therapy” once and for all. And as president, I want to be able to give blood myself—which is why my administration will make decisions on who can donate blood based on science, not on stigma.

I want every LGBTQ+ person to know that when I’m president, I will have your back.

And that’s just the beginning. We will work to end youth homelessness, protect LGBTQ+ young people from bullying, and ensure they have more support in school. This includes launching a mentoring program that draw lessons from initiatives like President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper. We’ll pass the FAMILY Act to make sure that parents get time off to care for a new child or sick loved one—regardless of gender—and broaden the definition of family to include chosen family. We’ll work to end violence against LGBTQ+ people, especially Black transgender women, as well as increase access to housing and strengthen protections for LGBTQ+ immigrants and refugees. And instead of what’s smallest and meanest in us finding reflection in the highest office in the land, everyone who looks to the White House will see leadership reminding them that they belong.

Had you told the deeply conflicted teenage version of myself what 2019 would be like, he never would have believed you. I began my career at a time when you could either be out, or you could serve in major political office—not both. I joined the military when it was unlawful to serve openly. Just five years ago, my marriage would not have been legal in my home state.

Today, at the age of 37, I am a veteran of the War in Afghanistan in my eighth year as mayor of my hometown, running as a top-tier contender for president of the United States—with a loving husband cheering me on.

Even after all we’ve been through—and all we’re enduring under this administration—a country that can grow so swiftly in the direction of acceptance deserves our optimism, deserves our courage, and deserves our hope. I’m prepared to use my story, my energy, and the power of the presidency to tear down the walls that have excluded far too many LGBTQ+ people for far too long.

My journey began in a modest Indiana neighborhood, and took a turn when I sat down to write a letter on the way to a war zone. And it will continue through my campaign for the White House, as this country writes a new chapter in our shared American story.

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