Pete Buttigieg’s coming out-story on the Democratic presidential debate stage Thursday proved to be a resonating and defining moment for the evening.
It came at the tail end, after moderator George Stephanopoulos asked each candidate on stage to discuss how they have demonstrated resilience. Buttigieg discussed the fears he faced about coming out as gay while serving as mayor of South Bend, Ind., in 2015.
“As a military officer serving under ‘don't ask, don't tell,’ and as an elected official in the state of Indiana when Mike Pence was governor, at a certain point, when it came to professional setbacks, I had to wonder whether just acknowledging who I was was going to be the ultimate career-ending professional setback,” Buttigieg acknowledged.
“I came back from the deployment and realized that you only get to live one life. And I was not interested in not knowing what it was like to be in love any longer, so I just came out.”
Sharing the story on the debate stage earned a headline in The New York Times on a night when 10 candidates for president competed for attention. It also won a rave review from one person particularly close to Buttigieg, his husband, Chasten.
But Buttigieg acknowledged that at the time, he feared negative attention on the moment.
“I had no idea what kind of professional setback it would be, especially because inconveniently it was an election year in my socially conservative community,” he said.
“What happened was that, when I trusted voters to judge me based on the job that I did for them, they decided to trust me and reelected me with 80 percent of the vote. And what I learned was that trust can be reciprocated and that part of how you can win and deserve to win is to know what's worth more to you than winning.”
Buttigieg earlier this year made history as the first out presidential candidate on a nationally televised presidential debate.
On Thursday night, at the third presidential debate for Buttigieg and other Democratic candidates this year, he made the case that the gay experience in fact helps prepare him in one sense for the challenges of the highest office in the land.
“That's what we need in the presidency right now. We have to know what we are about,” he said. “…It's about the people who trust us with their lives, a kid wondering if we're actually going to make their schools safe when they've learned active shooter drills before they've learned to read, a generation wondering we will actually get the job done on climate change."
"And if we hold to that, then it doesn't matter what happens to each of us professionally," he continued. "Together, we will win a better era for our country.”