You’re ready when you’re ready. For some, that means coming out while still in middle school. For others, it has led to the awareness and decision to come out late in life. And for too many people, external and internal pressures and confusion mean that coming out never happens at all.
I sometimes wonder if that might have happened to me, but for a military deployment in my early 30s that forced me to reflect on how short and singular life is. I had spent the first few years of my adulthood unable to admit to myself that I was gay, and then the next several years out only to myself and my closest friends because I was convinced that coming out would be a professional death sentence for my twin careers as a military reservist and a public official in Indiana. But after coming home safe from Afghanistan, I realized that every day is a gift — and that it made no sense to remain so trapped by expectations that I might go to my grave with no idea what it was like to be in love.
I still remember the morning of June 16, when the op-ed I had sent to the South Bend Tribune was set to go live at 6 a.m. Unable to sleep, I occupied myself by lifting weights in the basement while the biggest weight I had carried in my life was lifted, whatever the consequences.
Soon I saw the results — encouragement from friends, members of the public making clear that they either supported me or didn’t care, and some unpleasant responses that I found surprisingly easy to ignore. As to whether this would be as fatal to my professional life as I had feared, the ultimate verdict came a few months later when, up for reelection, I was returned to office by my socially conservative community with 80 percent of the vote. And best of all, during that same summer I met Chasten, whom I would later marry, and who brings a wealth of love and joy to my life that keeps any professional setback or election result in perspective.
I was fortunate to receive so much support when I came out, both emotionally and electorally. But as we mark National Coming Out Day, we are burdened by the knowledge that not everyone is so lucky. So when I’m president, I’m prepared to use my story, my energy, and the power of the presidency to tear down walls of exclusion and usher in a new era for LGBTQ+ Americans.
We will begin by immediately dismantling the Trump administration’s institutionalized discrimination of LGBTQ+ people. Transgender Americans will be able to serve in our military. Clinicians will no longer be able to refuse care for LGBTQ+ patients. I will appoint diverse leaders across my administration, and together we will reassert America’s international leadership on LGBTQ+ rights. And we will restore moral leadership to the White House, so that everyone who looks to the highest office in the land will know that they belong in America.
Ushering in a new era for LGBTQ+ Americans means ensuring full equality under the law. So my administration will work with Congress to immediately pass the Equality Act. Nobody should be denied a job, a home, or services based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. States from Iowa to New Hampshire to Nevada have already passed these protections. It’s past time this became federal law as well.
We will bring about a new era of equitable access to quality health care. With over 100 million Americans uninsured or underinsured — including a disproportionate number of LGBTQ+ people — we will ensure affordable and universal health care with my Medicare for All Who Want It plan. We’ll eliminate barriers to gender-affirming treatments and procedures for transgender Americans. By ensuring affordable access to PrEP treatment, guaranteeing that everyone with HIV is, and remains, in treatment, reducing stigma, and restoring research funding, we can end the HIV/AIDS epidemic once and for all by 2030. Recognizing that LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times as likely as their straight peers to attempt suicide, we’ll ensure comprehensive mental health and addiction care, including $10 billion annual grants for communities to tailor their own approaches to support healing and belonging.
We must also look after the well-being of LGBTQ+ young people more broadly, knowing the war that breaks out in the heart of a young person when they realize that a basic fact about them makes them more likely to be feared, hated, or subject to discrimination and violence.
So we’ll protect LGBTQ+ students from bullying and provide schools greater resources to support LGBTQ+ students. We’ll launch a mentoring program for LGBTQ+ youth that draws lessons from initiatives like President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper. And we’ll make innovative and flexible federal investments to help end youth homelessness — a population that disproportionately identifies as LGBTQ+ and that once included my own husband.
In addition to young people, my administration will support every member of LGBTQ+ families. We can do better than allowing 23,000 young people every year to age out of foster care without ever being placed with a permanent family. This is why we’ll prohibit federal dollars from going to foster care and adoption agencies that discriminate against LGBTQ+ parents. We’ll undo this administration’s mean-spirited restrictions on citizenship for children born abroad to same-gender parents and clarify that those couples do not have to jump through additional hoops for their children to become citizens. 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.
Finally, ushering in a new era means ensuring that our justice system works better for the LGBTQ+ community. We will honor the memories of the dozens of Black trans women killed in recent years — women like Muhlaysia Booker, Bee Love Slater, and Paris Cameron — by vigorously enforcing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and promoting law enforcement and community policing strategies that protect our community. We’ll work to reduce the incarcerated population by 50 percent, and ensure safety and appropriate medical care for LGBTQ+ individuals caught in the criminal justice system.
This is just the beginning of the work we must do, from honoring our LGBTQ+ veterans, to welcoming LGBTQ+ refugees, to empowering LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. You can read more about our plan at PeteForAmerica.com/lgbtq. After you’ve read it, I hope you’ll support our efforts and let us know what more we can do.
As a gay man running for president, I am proud to lend my voice to the broader struggle for equality. Chasten is too. We do so knowing that our story is only possible because those who came before us raised theirs, from icons like Henry Gerber, Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, and Sylvia Rivera, to the countless anonymous Americans who have touched hearts and minds across our nation. And addressing the needs of LGBTQ+ Americans, in addition to crises from gun violence to climate change, will require all of us to continue to raise ours. Together, we can bring about an era of true equality, where every American can be confident that this country has a place for them.
Pete Buttigieg is the Democratic mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a candidate for president.