“Why Coming Out Matters” was the attention grabbing headline staring at me from the front page of the South Bend Tribune. I quickly turned the page to read the essay written by Pete Buttigieg, the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. There in the middle of his thoughtful and bold essay were the words:
“I was well into adulthood before I was prepared to acknowledge the simple fact that I am gay. It took years of struggle and growth for me to recognize that it’s just a fact of life, like having brown hair, and part of who I am.”
Facebook has been a flurry of activity as our city awoke to the BIG news that our Mayor is gay.
But is it big news? Our city has thousands of LGBT citizens living and working in it so isn’t Mayor Pete just one more? Mayor Pete has served our city and our country well without us knowing he was gay so why should we care now? Why should anyone care? Former Mayor Steve Luecke didn’t need to write an editorial to announce that he was was straight so why should Mayor Pete need to reveal he is gay?
To steal the theme of Mayor Pete’s editorial I present five reasons “Why Mayor Pete’s Coming Out Matters”
It matters because it sends a powerful message to the rest of Indiana and our nation that South Bend is on the right side of history. The nation is watching as South Bend is once again in the media spotlight for good and positive reasons. Recently I told someone in Chicago that I was from South Bend and they replied “Oh nice! I hear that’s a real gay mecca!” He was totally serious. While I haven’t yet used the words “gay mecca” in describing my city, I am pleased that the word is spreading that South Bend is a welcoming and affirming city that embraces - not just tolerates - diversity.
It matters because South Bend is rapidly becoming a leader in the tech industry and beyond. Major corporations today refuse to move their headquarters and operations to a community that isn’t going to protect ALL of their employees - not just the straight ones. Companies recognize and value their LGBT employees and allies as an important part of their well-being. When considering relocation, it says volumes about a community when the prominent, elected officials are openly gay. Mayor Pete’s announcement matters because it reflects not just on him, but on the entire city and all that are considering a move to South Bend.
It matters because it says to the youth of our city that South Bend is a place they can feel good about calling home. South Bend is no longer a place to escape, but a place to return to because South Bend is not living in the past, we are living in the future!
It matters because South Bend is home to LGBTQ people (the "Q" is for questioning) who have not yet had the courage to come out and embrace their true selves. Mayor Pete took a bold step today in going public with his sexual identity. He is not ignorant of the political and social challenges it may present, but he courageously came out anyway. This is empowering to all who are considering or remain fearful. Just as our Mayor boldly stood against Governor Pence and the disastrous RFRA knowing that it was merely an attempt to legalize discrimination in our state, today he stands up for himself and all LGBT people in saying “I am gay”.
It matters because The Human Rights Campaign gave South Bend a 67 out of 100 on the 2014 Municipal Equality Index, a nationwide evaluation of municipal law. We are working on raising this score. The index considers many factors such as: the recognition of domestic partnerships; transgender health benefits; the existence of a LGBT liaison to city executives and law enforcement; enumerated anti-bullying policies; accurate reporting of hate crimes; how well the city advocates for full equality and more. One item that would significantly raise our score was the existence of openly gay elected officials. Thanks to Mayor Pete we can now say we have the first in what we know will be many more! Now let’s work together on the rest of those points to join the ranks of those cities that scored a 100.
So yes, Mayor Pete’s coming out matters. In fact, at this crucial time in our nation, I believe it matters more than ever. While we all look forward to the day that it won’t matter, we should make sure that day comes sooner than later by supporting our family, friends, co-workers and others in living their truth.
Mayor Pete has reminded us that LGBT people are all around us. It doesn’t make us better or worse citizens. In Pete’s words: “..it’s just a fact of life, like having brown hair, and part of who I am.” We are your neighbors, your coworkers, your friends, your relatives, your teachers and yes, even your Mayor. And we are here to stay.