Pete Buttigieg praised the courage of a young Brigham Young University valedictorian who came out during his speech at the Mormon school’s commencement ceremony, telling BuzzFeed News he looked forward to calling the student.
“I know that kid is going to make it easier for somebody else,” Buttigieg, who is gay, told BuzzFeed News on Monday. “Imagine if you’re a terrified closeted kid in that audience at BYU and what it does for you to have that student lead that way.”
Buttigieg’s new comments offer a glimpse into how the presidential candidate is thinking about the impact his candidacy is having as his popularity increases, and as pro-LGBTQ groups continue to coalesce around him as a cause. Buttigieg said he has only seen the broad contours of 24-year-old Matt Easton’s valedictorian speech, in which the student proclaimed, “I am proud to be a gay son of God."
Buttigieg, who came out in a 2015 op-ed, said that he “had some awareness” that coming out while mayor of South Bend, Indiana, “might make it easier for somebody else.”
Buttigieg said he found the setting, and the idea of even the possibility that he could be inspiring people to act with courage as Easton did in his speech “incredibly moving to think about.”
In his speech, Easton thanked his mother, who he said is suffering from cancer. “Four years ago it would have been impossible for me to imagine that I would have come out to my entire college,” Easton said. “It is a phenomenal feeling and it is a victory in and of itself.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints only announced earlier this month that it would allow same-sex couples to baptize their children, ending a policy that defined same-sex marriage as a sin and viewed same-sex couples as “apostates.” The church said at the time that it still viewed same-sex marriage to be a “serious transgression.”
Buttigieg — who has expressed some reticence at being defined by his identity as a married gay man and is not eager to just be a “poster child” for LGBTQ issues — was buoyant as he spoke about the prospect of his usefulness as a role model, running as though it’s normal to be accepted.
Buttigieg laid out a road map for running in a way that feels comfortable, “living a real life, behaving as though it would be natural to be accepted and letting people see when that acceptance comes, even if it isn’t universal — that’s how you do this. At least that’s what’s worked for me."
“I don’t think someone in [Easton’s] position is looking to be celebrated; I think the reason this is so hard for them is they’re looking to be accepted.”
Buttigieg said he owes his ability to run for president in this way and live openly as he does to earlier generations. “I only had the room to do [this] because people before me had to assert, sometimes militantly, that they shouldn’t be suppressed. Otherwise there’s no oxygen for somebody like me to do something like this and possibly help someone like that.
“All of this is part of a bigger arc.”
Pete Buttigieg's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.