Buttigieg Recalls His Inner ‘Civil War’ Over His Gay Identity

(Bloomberg) -- Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay Democratic presidential candidate, recalls the battle he fought within himself to understand and accept his sexuality.

“What it was like was a civil war because I knew I was different long before I was ready to say that I was gay and long before I was able to acknowledge that that was something that I didn’t have power over,” Buttigieg said Thursday night in Los Angeles at a town hall on LGBTQ issues hosted by the Human Rights Campaign.

Buttigieg Recalls His Inner ‘Civil War’ Over His Gay Identity

Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was one of nine Democratic presidential candidates to get half an hour on stage to talk about the rights of LGBTQ people, but he is the only one with first-hand experience of being openly gay.

He was questioned by audience members and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who is also gay and said he remembered being “probably like 5 or 6 and I knew something was up.”

Buttigieg, 37, said he was in his 20s when he came out to a friend -- and, in effect, to himself -- but that it was only when he deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 as a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve that he decided he had to publicly address his sexuality.

“It was really that experience of going to war in Afghanistan and realizing that I could lose my life in my early 30s, be a grown man, not to mention be a mayor of a city, and have no idea what it was like to be in love, that I thought that’s just got to end,” he said.

Buttigieg’s answer was equally personal later on in his appearance when an audience member asked him about the prohibition on blood donation for men who have engaged in sexual activity with men in the previous 12 months.

“I remember the moment when I realized that, unlike most initiatives that I spearhead, I can’t lead by example on this one, because my blood is not welcome in this country,” he said. “And it’s not based on science. It’s based on prejudice.”

He also discussed how his Christian faith fits with his sexuality, saying that his marriage “moved me closer to God.” Asked if God made him gay, Buttigieg said: “The decision was definitely made above my pay grade.”

Reflecting on the time on stage with Cooper discussing gay rights issues, Buttigieg told reporters after the forum that he knew they were doing something that hadn’t been done before.

“It was extraordinary. You could feel that it was a historic moment,” he said. “As a teenager, if you had told me that in the very near future, I would see an event with presidential candidates solely dedicated to equality for the LGBT community, let alone that that one of those candidates would be a married gay man living in Indiana, never mind the fact that one of those candidates would be me, I don’t know that I would’ve believed you.”

The other Democratic candidates at the town hall all pledged to fight discrimination and homophobia. Former Vice President Joe Biden said he would punish countries such as China and Saudi Arabia that violate human rights abuses.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was asked what her response would be if someone said to her they believed marriage should be between one man and one woman.

“I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that,” she said to laughter from the audience. “And I’m going to say, ‘then just marry one woman.’ I’m cool with that.” She paused, then added: “Assuming you can find one.”

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