Pete Buttigieg Speaks at Las Vegas HRC Gala at Caesars Palace

QLife is proud to provide a complete transcript from the May 12 keynote presented by Pete Buttigieg at the Las Vegas Human Rights Campaign Gala on May 11th, 2019 at Caesars Palace. The presidential candidate was introduced by HRC President Chad Griffin.

Chad Griffin: 

It has been the honor of my life to be your partner in leading this organization over these last seven years. And we stand where we are today ready to seize full equality for every member of our community for one reason. All of you. And we need you now more than ever before.  

We need you to fight harder, to dig deeper, and to never be silent because there are still more trails to be blazed. There's still more history to be made and more battles to be won. And our brightest days in our grandest victories are still ahead of us. And the Human Rights Campaign is just getting started. Thank you all very much. Thank you.  

It is now my honor to introduce someone who is inspiring countless Americans and changing hearts and minds across this nation, in his historic campaign for president. Since 2012 he has served as the Mayor of South Bend Indiana. A champion of equality, he stood up and fought back in 2015 when then-Indiana Governor Mike Pence's obsession with LGBTQ people reached new heights. This time in the form of a heartless license-to-discriminate bill that brought national ridicule and shame on the Hoosier state. That same year, our next speaker came out himself, becoming the highest-ranking out LGBTQ elected official in the state of Indiana. A graduate of Harvard University, a Rhodes scholar, and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, today he is running to be the first out gay President of the United States. And in this race, he and his husband Chasten are bringing the power of LGBTQ visibility to a whole new level while blazing historic trails along the way. We are so honored to have him here with us tonight. Please join me in welcoming the mayor of South Bend Indiana and the candidate for president of the United States, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.  

Pete Buttigieg: 

Thank you. Good evening. Human Rights Campaign.  

Right back at you. Thank you. And thank you for the opportunity to be here. Thank you Chad and the Human Rights Campaign team and all of your supporters for the incredible work you've done to advance the cause of equality whether advocating for those living with HIV/AIDS, or spearheading the repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell, or fighting to make sure that love is taken seriously no matter who you are no matter where you live. While we're in a spirit of gratitude let's also thank the staff here at the hotel who've provided such a great meal for us tonight. My name is Pete Buttigieg. Better known as Mayor Pete. These days best known as the husband of Chasten Glezman Buttigieg. I know that Chasten won a lot of friends when he spoke at an HRC event in Houston just a few weeks back. I watched it.  


I thought it was pretty good. Pretty amazing in fact. Now I just have the small matter of persuading him that when we agree that it's his turn to do the laundry doing the laundry includes folding it and putting away. But that's my own challenge.  

This Mother's Day eve I want to mention that my mother is here with us tonight. We're going to be spending time with my mom and with Chasten's mom. And we were so fortunate to belong to families that have embraced and supported us. We know that families continue to struggle with acceptance in this country and it's so many people especially young people in the LGBTQ family sometimes need a different family a bigger one, and that yellow equal sign is an emblem of family. An emblem of belonging that is touching and even saving lives.  

I'm going to have a lot to say about belonging later on this evening.  

But first I just want to respect on how remarkable of a spring Chasten and I have it and what a testament it is to what can happen in this country of ours you know we believe that our message was a winning one. So I'm not surprised that our message is resonating. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that were a little bit surprised too at the speed of this trajectory that we're on.  

But then again this whole thing is surprising in a way. If you had gone back in time 20 years ago to find me as an awkward teenager at St. Joe High School in South Bend Indiana and reported to him what 2019 would look like, he would not have believed it. If you told him there was going to wake up in Las Vegas one day in May, 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. Let alone if you told me then that at the age of 37 I would be a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. In my eighth year as mayor of my hometown, and standing here at Caesar's Palace as a top tier contender for the presidency of the United States. And even more amazing, the look on my teenaged face if you could have told me that I'd be doing it with my husband looking on.  

I am so mindful and so thankful that every minute of this marriage we are enjoying a freedom that came to us because of the work of so many others. People like those in this room tonight and around the country. So I'm standing here not just as a politician but as a loving husband saying thank you, thank you, thank you to this organization and the entire LGBTQ movement for the fight to bring us that freedom. And when it comes to coming out everyone's got their own story. Mine is one of taking a long, long time to come out even to myself. And once I did and started to tell friends after being elected mayor of my hometown it was it was easy to drag my feet on telling anyone else. After all, I had a demanding job. Not a lot of time for a personal life and the city was a jealous bride.  

But what happened was I realized I wasn't getting any younger. And by the time I stepped away from the mayor's office on leave to serve in Afghanistan 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. Something happens to you when you write a letter and put it in an envelope and write just in case on the outside of it and put it somewhere your family can find it. It forces you to realize that you actually only get one life. You only get to be one person.  

And then I knew that I had to be who I am. So by the time I came home I knew what I had to do.  

Now inconveniently all this happened in the middle of an election campaign. It was not obvious what the effect of coming out would be. Mike Pence was the governor of Indiana. There had never even been an out elected official in executive office in our state. So would the people of my socially conservative community embrace me and continue to judge me based on the job that I was doing for them—the turnaround in our city that was going so well? Or would they turn on me unable to look past the fact that who I was was something they had been brought up to reject? There was only one way to find out. So I wrote an op-ed for the newspaper, hit send, and waited to see what would happen. And to make a very long story short, what happened was that I got re-elected with 80 percent of the vote.  

Part of why I launched this unlikely campaign, part of why I'm so optimistic about the future of this country is that even with everything we've been through I have faith in the possibility of change and growth in this country.  

I know it's a strange time to speak optimistically about American politics. Don't get me wrong, I am conscious of what we are up against. In many respects, this situation is so serious that even now we may well be under reacting. The horror show in Washington is mesmerizing. It is the nature of grotesque things that you can't look away. So it holds our attention in a kind of trance but we can't get caught up in.  

Faced with that show. We have to remember that in 2020 we get the chance to change the channel.  

We're not going to do it by out-insulting Donald Trump. The truth is we're not going to knock him flat with some killer line on a debate stage. But believe me, I've thought of plenty.  

I'd be happy to debate faith; happy to debate service; I'd be pretty happy to debate marriage with this president. But the truth is we can't let this election be about the president because if Americans see us spending all of our time talking about him they'll be left with this question, "Who's talking about us?"  

Our greatest armor is truth and the truth is there is no honest or constructive politics that revolves around the word again. We're not going back. We can't go back. We can't go back. Democrats can't take us back to 2008 or 1998 any more than conservatives can take us back to the 50s.  

Things are changing. Our country is being buffeted by extraordinary change–tectonic change–some of it good as so many people in this room can attest. Some of it very, very, challenging especially for people in industrial communities like mine who have found not just their income but their identity disrupted.  

And that's why in 2020 our focus can't just be about winning an election. It has got to be about winning an era. That's why it can't just be about the next four years. We are preparing our country for a better life in 2030 and 2040 in 2054 when God willing, I will come to be the same age as our current president.  

I'm taking the long view because I have to. I come from the generation that grew up with school shootings as the norm; the generation that produced the bulk of the troops after 9/11; the generation on the business end of climate change for the balance of our adult lives. One that could be the first in American history to come out worse off economically than our parents if we don't do something truly different. So let's do something truly different.  

Change is coming. Ready or not. And the test of our time is whether we'll be defeated by these changes or whether we can make them work for us.  

A moment like this calls for hopeful and audacious voices. And yes it calls for a new vocabulary and a new generation of leadership. Now there's no secret that Democrats—people from my party—we are policy people. We are nuance people. We are quick to point out and put out a 14 point plan but sometimes slow to explain the values behind that plan our positions on every policy question should always be clear. But it's time for us to get comfortable once again talking about the values that motivate those positions. Values like freedom. We have allowed conservatives to monopolize the language of freedom but we know that freedom isn't just about freedom from, it's about freedom to.  

Not just freedom from regulation but freedom to live a life of your choosing. The reality is you're not free if, for example, your reproductive health is subject to being dictated by a male boss or a politician. You're not free if you are being prevented from organizing for a fair day's pay for a good day's work. And of course, you are most certainly not free if a county clerk gets to tell you who you ought to marry based on their interpretation of their religion. Freedom has no political party. Neither does patriotism. Neither does security. We know that there's more to security than putting up a wall from sea to shining sea. 21st-century security means cybersecurity, election security. It means a vision of security that is ready to keep us safe in the face of violent white nationalism rearing its ugly head around the country and around the world. And caring about security requires us to treat climate disruption as the security imperative that it is. So the way we secure our freedom, the way we safeguard our security, is through a well-kept democracy. A democracy where districts are drawn fairly so voters actually get to choose their politicians instead of the other way around. A democracy where when you're choosing the leader of your nation, maybe, just maybe we total up all the votes and give it to the person who got the most. And a real democracy—I must say this even though I know I'm a guest in Sheldon Adelson town—but a real democracy... 

OK. I think I got I got some folks who agree with me on this... 

That real democracy means that the voice you have in our political process is gauged by the merits of what you have to say and not by the number of zeros in your bank balance. So when we talk about these things freedom security democracy they're not abstractions. Anyone in my generation anyone in this room understands that politics isn't theoretical it is personal so many of us have a marriage that exists by the grace of a single vote on the U.S. Supreme Court nine men and women sat down in a room and took a vote and they brought me the most important freedom of my life. That's why Washington matters. Not the show. It's not the political ups and downs. It's not the daily drama of who looked good in the committee meeting. It's the way a chain of events starts in one of those big white buildings and reaches into our lives, into our homes, our paychecks, our doctors' offices, our marriages. That's why our country was invented in the first place and that's what's at stake today. Now I'd like to comment on one of the buzzwords of our time. So-called identity politics. No one knows quite what to make of it today. When the phrase is used, it's usually to wave away our attention from some of the things that make our lived experiences different and the political implications of those differences. Many of the objections come from the right, which is ironic at this time because the current administration has mastered the practice of the most divisive form of such politics: peak white identity politics designed to drive apart people with common interests. It is true that each of us could see in our own identity all the reasons we are misunderstood and then say, "You don't understand me because you haven't walked in my shoes." 

Something that is true as far as it goes but it doesn't get us very far because we could also see in our identity the beginning of a new form of American solidarity by recognizing that the one thing we do have in common may be the challenge of belonging. In a society that sees us for what makes us all different I'm not talking about pretending that there are equivalencies between the different patterns of exclusion in this country. I may be a part of the LGBTQ community but being a gay man doesn't even tell me what it's like to be a trans woman of color in that same community, let alone an undocumented mother of four or a disabled veteran or displaced autoworker. But being gay just like every other fact about me from where I grew up to what I look like means that I have a story. And if I look to that story I can find the building blocks not only for empathy but for the impetus to action, because the more you know about exclusion, the more you think about belonging. And we have a crisis of belonging in this country. When you do not belong, that doesn't just put you in a bad mood, it puts you in a different country. When black women are dying from maternal complications at triple the rate of white women it means for the purposes of public health they are living in a different country. It means that for a dreamer brought to this land at the age of two months old and putting herself through college without a path to citizenship and the only place she knows then even though she's as American as the rest of, us she finds her life playing out on paper in a different country. When a disabled person is discriminated against in employment opportunities it is as though he is in a different country than the rest of us. And yes when an autoworker, 12 years into their career, is no longer sure how to provide for their family they're not part of the country we think of ourselves as all living in together. That's why we can't seem to get on the same page. These divisive lines of thinking have even entered into the consciousness of my own party. Like when we're told we need to choose between supporting an autoworker and supporting a trans woman of color without stopping to think about the fact that sometimes the auto worker is a trans woman of color and she definitely needs all the support that she can get.  

The wall I worry about the most is not the President's fantasy wall on the Mexican border that's never going to get built anyway. What I worry about are the very real walls being put up between us as we get divided and carved up walls going up within the working class, within communities, even within families.  And 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. I am not just like you. No two of us are like. But each of us has a story that can either separate us or connect us to those around us. Yes, I am gay and I am the son of an immigrant and an Army brat. And I'm a husband and I am a musician and I'm an Episcopalian. And I'm a Democrat.  

But above all, I am running as an American. I am here to build bridges and to tear down walls. And with your help, we can tear down those walls between fellow Americans. Let's tear down the walls that went up to keep black families out of white neighborhoods with consequences for educational and health inequality as well as for income. Let's tear down the fences between women in the economy and that level playing field everyone's talking about. Let's tear down the walls around our democracy put up by politicians who came to the conclusion that their side will win if fewer people can vote. Let's tear down the fencing off of more and more of our economy from organizing. Because big corporations shouldn't need a safe space away from workers rights in order to compete and thrive in American democratic capitalism. So I'm ready to use my story, my energy, my alliances, and yes, my privilege, to throw myself into tearing down those walls because I know what a wall can do. But most of all because I know how it feels to peer, and then look, and then see, and then climb through a big hole in one of those walls—a hole knocked out by the activism of the kinds of people who are in this room. The struggle for equality for the LGBTQ community on everything from workplace discrimination to trans servicemembers dignity. It doesn't compete with the other struggles of Americans yearning to get to the other side of an ugly wall. It reinforces those struggles and it obligates all of us to do everything we can to lift one another up in the struggle. We have to be for each other no matter what.  

Which is why what I have to say to a woman who simply will not stand for the 46 male president in a row, or a voter of color who is getting tired of politicians Republican and Democratic making promises they can't keep to their community and it's decided their trust will be harder than ever to win this time around, that as much as I hope you will decide to be for me—if you don't—I am still absolutely committed to being for you. Harvey Milk talked about the US's not just gays but the black community seniors and disabled. Anyone who has been marginalized or preyed upon or counted out. And the only way we'll move forward is if all of us US's others rise together to meet this moment to make our US into a bigger US without pretending we're all the same without needing to all be the same in order to put it all on the line for one another.  

That's how we got this far. Standing on the shoulders of giants. Well, there was Notre Dame's Father Ted Habsburg linking arms with Dr. King as they sang We Shall Overcome. Or the Filipino and Mexican-American farmworkers striking for dignity and decent wages. Influenced by Gandhi and King supported by church groups and unions and students, and then those civil rights marchers and demonstrators whose patriotic dissent helped to inspire the era that gave rise to the resistance at Stonewall that in turn helped to launch the arrival of LGBTQ consciousness as we know it.  

So yes we're going to ask you to fight until states like my home state of Indiana finally put a hate crime law on the books even if you're one of the handful of Americans who has somehow not yet been targeted for hate or ridicule in this administration just like people who look like me are going to fight for a fairer criminal justice system even if no one in our immediate family has experienced the racial inequity in that broken system. It's why we need everybody to be there with us in the fight for the Federal Equality Act. No matter who they are. And it's why we've got to join things like Reverend William Barber's poor people's campaign challenging our entire nation to lift up the poor and downtrodden.  

We fight for the transgender troops willing to put their lives on the line for this country for the same reason–the same reason we fight for the Central American asylum seeker looking for a better life. The struggle for freedom and fairness and a better life reaches far beyond our LGBTQ experience but our experience arms us with empathy and it fills us with the energy to get this done. In different ways, every American struggles to experience true freedom. Every American needs real security. Every American depends on a vibrant democracy. And that's what this campaign is about. So in a room like this, I see a chance for all of us to lift each other up, to show where our country can be, and what our president can do. And I am filled even now with hope. Running for office is an act of hope. So was volunteering or donating or even just voting for somebody running for office. And we have great grounds for hope. Even in my short lifetime. Ten years ago the first day I set foot on a Navy base I could not have served openly in uniform. Five years ago in my home state, my marriage could not have existed. And last week if you happen to pass by a newsstand you could have picked up a copy of Time magazine with the headline, "First Family," and a man and his husband sitting side by side.  

It didn't just happen. It is the fruit of struggle, political struggle, moral struggle. Struggle by people with the courage to make change and faith in the ability of this country to be transformed into a more perfect union. So Human Rights Campaign supporters, does that not fill you with hope? 

Are you ready to take up the challenge of a generation and win the era for America's future? Are you ready to stand hand-in-hand with people just like you and people not at all like you to make this country a better place? Then I'm as hopeful as I've ever been and I'm convinced that we can't lose. Thank you.  

And I'll see you on the trail. Thank you.