The mayor of South Bend, Indiana – home to the famed Catholic University of Notre Dame, and the state’s fourth-largest city – came out publicly as gay on Tuesday, writing in an essay for the South Bend Tribune that “being more open about it could do some good.”
“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,” wrote South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “And for a conservative resident from 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 33-year-old noted the remarkable progress LGBT Americans have made in recent years, writing that in some parts of the country, such high levels of acceptance is now “considered old news.” But in Indiana, he said, LGBT equality “is still often divisive.”
“Today it remains legal in most parts of Indiana (though not South Bend) to fire someone simply for being gay,” Buttigied wrote, “and bullying still contributes to tragically high suicide rates among LGBT teens.”
“Still,” he continued, “our country is headed in a clear overall direction, and swiftly.”
Indiana is one of 36 states where gay and lesbian couples can legally wed. Soon, that freedom may stretch from coast to coast if in the next few weeks, the Supreme Court finds same-sex marriage bans violate the U.S. Constitution.
But the Hoosier State drew widespread condemnation from LGBT advocates earlier this year after Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a controversial religious freedom measure, criticized for making it easier to turn away patrons on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Pence eventually signed a “fix” to the measure, making clear that it could not be used by businesses to discriminate on religious grounds.
Buttigied called the episode “disastrous” in his essay, but said that Indiana now had an opportunity to move forward.
“If different sides steer clear of name-calling and fear-mongering, we can navigate these issues based on what is best about Indiana: values like respect, decency, and support for families — all families,” he said.