Updated May 12, 2019 - 5:56 pm
Openly gay Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg addressed identity politics and America’s “crisis of belonging” during the Human Rights Campaign’s 14th annual gala Saturday night in Las Vegas.
“I am here to build bridges and tear down walls,” Buttigieg said to an audience of about 750 people at Caesars Palace. “With your help, we can tear down walls between fellow Americans.”
The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, entered the crowded Democratic primary in April. A Monmouth University poll released Thursday shows him with 9 percent support in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation Democratic primary, trailing far behind front-runners Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
During his first appearance in Las Vegas as a 2020 presidential candidate, Buttigieg was the keynote speaker for the sold-out fundraising event held by the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization.
“Everyone in this room understands that politics isn’t theoretical. It is personal,” he said.
Buttigieg shared his coming-out story at the event, saying he decided to make public that he was gay in 2015 after serving as a U.S. Navy Reserve intelligence officer in Afghanistan for six months. He was already in his 30s and serving as South Bend’s mayor.
“It forces you to realize that you actually only get one life,” the candidate said of serving in the military. “You only get to be one person, and then I knew that I had to be who I am.”
Buttigieg touched on a wide range of progressive policy positions, including LGBTQ rights, reproductive health, labor unions, cybersecurity, climate change, big money in politics and gerrymandering.
“We can’t let this election be about the president,” he said. “Because if Americans see us spend all our time talking about him, they’ll be left with the question: ‘Who is talking about us?’ ”
But most of the mayor’s 30-minute speech focused on his values, tearing down barriers and recognizing his own privilege as a white man running for the presidency.
“I may be 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,” he said. “Let alone an undocumented mother of four, or a disabled veteran, or a displaced auto worker.”
Buttigieg said all Americans could look to their personal stories to find empathy and a reason to create “a new form of American solidarity.”
“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?” he asked.