It is home to the most storied American Catholic institution—the University of Notre Dame. It is the fourth largest city in Indiana. It now also has one of the few out gay mayors in America’s middle and large-sized cities, now that he’s come out.
South Bend, Ind. mayor Pete Buttigieg, 33, decided to make a point that coming out matters. He did so in an essay published by the South Bend Tribune newspaper.
The revelation comes in the wake of Indiana legislating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In the law’s original form, it would have allowed businesses to deny service to certain persons based on their particular religious values. It was seen as targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.
“Experiences with friends or family members coming out have helped millions of Americans to see past stereotypes and better understand what being gay is and is not,” Buttigieg wrote. “For most of our history, most Americans had no idea how many people they knew and cared about were gay.”
Buttigieg wanted to keep his private life private. But the first term mayor expressed that this was an opportunity to set a positive example for LGBT youth, and to an older generation not used to contemporary social norms.
“Putting something this personal on the pages of a newspaper does not come easy. We Midwesterners are instinctively private to begin with, and I’m not used to viewing this as anyone else’s business. But it’s clear to me that at a moment like this, being more open about it could do some good,” the mayor wrote.
“For a local student struggling with her sexuality, it might be helpful for an openly gay mayor to send the message that her community will always have a place for her. And for a conservative resident form a different generation, whose unease with social change is partly rooted in the impression that he doesn’t know anyone gay, perhaps a familiar face can be a reminder that we’re all in this together as a community.”
The young mayor is not new to national attention.
The Washington Post newspaper described Buttigieg as “the most interesting mayor you’ve never heard of.”
Local government innovation organization GovFresh.com named Buttigieg its 2013 Mayor of the Year.
As a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve, Buttigieg was called to active duty last year from Feb. 28 to Sept. 30. He was sent to Afghanistan—refusing his city salary during his service.
Buttigieg explained that being gay is “a fact of life, like having brown hair.” He said it is “part of who I am.”
To that end, Buttigieg was driven to pass an equal rights amendment for South Bend within 100 days in office.
Heling to get the amendment passes was Richard Sutton, then-president of Indiana Equality.
“He was a leader. It won 6-3,” Sutton said. “He had to fight Notre Dame, where his father taught, and the Catholic bishop. But his calm resolve carried the day.”
Buttgieg is optimistic for LGBT Hoosiers as more cities are expected to follow suit with local non-discrimination ordinances.
“We’re moving closer to a world in which acceptance is the norm. This kind of social change considered old news in some parts of the country, is still often divisive around here,” he said. “But it doesn’t have to be. We’re all finding our way forward, and things will go better if we can manage to do it together.”
Freedom Indiana, currently campaigning for such ordinances, spoke to Chicago Star-Bulletin.
“Mayor Buttigieg has been a strong voice for equality, and it says a lot that we live in a state where Hoosiers feel comfortable and supported being who they are,” the group said.