LAS VEGAS (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg described Saturday his public coming out as a gay man in 2015 and how the exclusion he experienced made him conscious of what it means to belong and the need to overcome divisions.
The 37-year-old described "a crisis of belonging in this country" experienced by LGBTQ people, women, immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, workers and more and the need for "hopeful and audacious voices" to unite people in a changing time.
"What every gay person has in common with every excluded person of any kind is knowing what it's like to see a wall between you and the rest of the world and wonder what it's like on the other side," Buttigieg said as he gave the keynote address Saturday night in Las Vegas at a gala for the Human Rights Campaign.
The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, made the appearance at the LGBTQ civil rights group event while making his second campaign swing this year through Nevada, which is third in line to cast votes for the Democratic presidential nomination next year.
Despite having held only one public office leading a community of about 100,000 people, the mayor's name recognition and popularity have surged as he has jumped into the race for the White House.
"I'd be lying if I didn't admit that we're a little surprised too at the speed of this trajectory," he said.
As a sign of the mayor's rising visibility, President Donald Trump this week mocked Buttigieg at a rally and likened him to Mad magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman in an interview with Politico.
Buttigieg said Saturday that 20 years ago, if someone told his teenaged self that that in 2019, he'd wake up to reports "that the president of the United States was apparently trying to get his attention, he would have wondered what you were talking about. Let alone if you told him that the president somehow pronounced his name right."
Buttigieg could become the first openly gay presidential nominee from a major political party. He is competing in a crowded field of Democratic candidates that includes former Vice President Joe Biden leading the pack and drawing heavily on his connections to President Barack Obama.
Buttigieg appeared to hint at Biden's allusions to the Obama administration Saturday night when he said the country can't and won't move backward.
"Democrats can't take us back to 2008 or 1998 any more than conservatives can take us back to the '50s," he said.
The former Naval intelligence officer also described his decision while serving as mayor and preparing to deploy to Afghanistan to publicly come out as gay.
"I was seized with the awareness that I could be killed in action at the age of 33, a grown man and an elected official, with no idea what it was like to be in love," he said. "I knew that I had to be who I am."
He noted that the op-ed article he published where he announced he was gay came when Vice President Mike Pence was serving as Indiana's governor — a fact that drew boos from the crowd.
The audience of about 750 members and supporters gave Buttigieg two standing ovations, including when his husband, Chasten, joined him on stage and they embraced at the end of his speech.
Before Buttigieg appeared on the stage at Caesars Palace, he met earlier Saturday with members of Nevada's Asian American Pacific Islander Democratic Caucus in Las Vegas.