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Chasten Buttigieg calls Republican politicians ‘bad actors’ during South Bend book event

River Montessori High School Patrick Newsom Chasten Buttigieg Book Event
River Montessori High School

The author and father didn’t hold back in his evaluation of conservative theatrics lawmakers employ instead of getting things done for their constituents.

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On Tuesday evening in South Bend, Ind., Chasten Buttigieg, educator, author, father, and husband of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, took the stage at an event celebrating the paperback release of his young adult book in front of a rapt audience at River Montessori High School. Pete Buttigieg was the mayor of South Bend from 2012 until 2020. Cohosted by Brain Lair Books, the event gathered a diverse crowd, united by a shared interest in hearing from one of the city’s famous former residents.

As Chasten Buttigieg, 34, spoke, it became clear that this event was more than a typical book tour stop; it was a powerful call to action. The event served as a joint fundraiser for Brain Lair Books, a struggling, small independent bookstore that provides LGBTQ+ and other affirming literature from marginalized communities to the area, and River Montessori High School, a remarkable private micro-school that acknowledges the full identities of all students and staff who step through its doors. Reflecting on his memoir, I Have Something to Tell You—For Young Adults, Buttigieg shared deeply personal stories of his struggles growing up in the Michigan town of Traverse City.

Related:The queerest education in America: How LGBTQ+ kids thrive at this Indiana school

“When I was 17 or 18, I just didn’t think I wanted to be here anymore,” Buttigieg shared. “I was convinced that something about me was wrong. My religion told me it was a sin, and I didn’t know any other gay people. I used to stare at my dad’s gun case all the time in the basement and just think, well, maybe this is it.”

Buttigieg’s struggle with suicidal thoughts and the profound sense of isolation he felt were powerful reminders of the challenges many LGBTQ+ youth face. However, his story is about resilience, transformation, and hope.

“My friends and family saved me,” he said. “They wrapped their arms around me, and I went on to become a first-generation college student and then a teacher. Now I’m a dad. All of these dreams came true.”

The audience listened intently as Buttigieg responded to questions from RMHS English teacher Patrick Newsom. The two spoke about the importance of support systems in overcoming adversity.

“As queer people, every day is a radical act of existence and self-love,” Buttigieg said. “To walk down a sidewalk holding hands with your partner, to put the love of your partner over the opinions of other people — that is radical.”

He encouraged LGBTQ+ people to embrace their identities unapologetically and to reject societal pressures to conform. “I want young people to know that you don’t have to go on the apology tour,” he said. “Your journey is yours to own.”

For Buttigieg, that journey was not without its challenges. He recounted his initial fear of coming out and the pressure to fit into societal norms. “When I came out, I went on an apology tour, which I write about how messed up that is,” he said. “I would come out to people and be like, ‘I have to tell you something,’ as if it was information that was necessary to share with other people. You don’t have to come out if you don’t want to. That is your journey, your life. That’s information that you are not obligated to share with other people.”

Buttigieg also stressed that being an ally must be more than performative gestures; it must be an ongoing commitment to action and support. “Allyship is a verb,” he declared. “It requires more than just believing that you love everybody. It’s more than just Pride Month. Think about what you’re doing with your power, your privilege, your money, and your platforms.”

Buttigieg alluded to Target’s recent decision to reduce its Pride Month inventory after years of carrying LGBTQ-themed merchandise to celebrate the season. “You’ve seen some major retailers start making decisions, always sold Pride merch, and then some conservative outlets get up in a tizzy about something, and then all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Well, maybe we’ll pull back on the Pride merchandise.’ You’re not an ally,” Buttigieg said. “You’re an ally if you’re saying, ‘Well, some people got upset; yeah, people get upset.’ That’s what we’re saying. People have been upset for a very long time, and they’re still trying to take our rights away. So be upset with us. Stand with us.”

Reflecting on his time in Washington, D.C., Buttigieg offered a candid critique of the performative nature of politics. “So much of politics is theater. It’s bad theater. They’re bad actors,” he said. “We need more genuine people in positions of power who care about getting things done for the community.” Examples of performative acts, he said, include the recent push by conservatives to enact “don’t say gay” laws.

Buttigieg’s critique extended to the broader political landscape, where he argued that too many politicians prioritize their image over the well-being of their constituents. “We’re talking about basic human dignity to acknowledge the existence of another person,” he said.

Buttigieg also addressed questions from the audience, offering practical advice to those struggling with their identity and those seeking to support them. “The first thing I always tell anybody who asks for advice is to make sure that you’re safe,” he said. “Recognize that if you’re worried there might be repercussions for coming out, then it’s OK to protect your peace and your safety. That information is not owed to anybody.”

The father of twins also highlighted the importance of unconditional support and understanding from parents and allies. He addressed allies and how they should react when an LGBTQ+ person comes out to them.

“The first thing you should say is 'thank you.' Thanks for sharing that with me. Thank you for trusting me with that information,” he said. “Recognize that someone might be coming to you worried that they might lose you, and they’re saying, ‘I want you to know more about me. I want you to know the authentic me.’”

The evening concluded with Buttigieg signing copies of his memoir and engaging with attendees, leaving them with a powerful message of hope, resilience, and the importance of community. “We can’t give in to fear and bigotry,” he said. “We all have work to do every single day to ensure that everyone feels safe, valued, and loved.”

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).