Guest Opinion: Mayor Pete makes me feel bold

A transgender UI student describes what the Buttigieg presidential campaign means for LGBTQ voters.


Shivansh Ahuja

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, IN., speaks during the 2019 Liberty and Justice Celebration at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Friday, November 1, 2019.

In September, I watched Pete Buttigieg make history as the first person to share their coming out story on a presidential debate stage. I have never felt so impassioned by a political candidate. I shed tears watching the South Bend, Indiana, mayor tell the story of what it’s like to come out as an elected official living in the socially conservative town. In that moment, I felt more empowered than ever.

Like Buttigieg, I grew up in a red region of the Midwest, in a town called Liberty, Missouri. I’m lucky to have a liberal, nonjudgmental family who always accepted people. 

This became extremely important when I was 14 years old. Towards the end of my eighth-grade year, I came to terms with something I had been grappling with for a while. Since I was a kid, I knew something was off. All the times I played football with the boys as a kid and feel like I was in the right place, even though they made me feel like an outsider. All the discomfort I felt wearing anything feminine. All the times I was asked “why are you only friends with boys?” I felt like something was wrong with me, but I couldn’t figure out what, until now. I put the pieces together. I couldn’t hide any longer. I summoned all my courage and did what any Generation Z kid would do in these serious situations: sent a carefully worded email to my parents explaining that I was transgender.

Buttigieg is bold. He’s not afraid to do what is right. He sticks up for people, and doesn’t care about any backlash.”

Though I didn’t know at the time, I was following some of Pete’s line of thinking as I came out. Like Pete explained at the end of that September debate, I knew I had to trust. I had to trust my school district wouldn’t hinder me for being who I am. I had to trust my family would still love me, even when I told them this life-changing secret. Most importantly, I had to trust myself to not lose the core of who I am, even though I would soon be going through immense change.

Coming out was terrifying. I was one of the first openly transgender people in my community. I received love and support from my family, but not so much from others. I lost friends, got called derogatory names, and was completely isolated. It was an overwhelming task for a 14-year-old. But I was done living a lie, and, like Buttigieg, didn’t care what kind of setbacks would come.

Since I first heard him speak, he made me feel hopeful. It started as a gut feeling. I did my research, and he seemed like a good guy who I could vote for, but there has to be more. What gave me the drive to become the director of canvassing for Hawkeyes for Pete?

To be frank, Buttigieg is everything President Trump isn’t. Buttigieg is bold. He’s not afraid to do what is right. He sticks up for people, and doesn’t care about any backlash. He is intelligent. (I mean, the man speaks eight languages.) Finally, my favorite quality is Pete’s selflessness. He never acts in his own self-interest. Everything he does, he does it for others.

I see a lot of similarities between the mayor and myself. We’re both young, midwestern, LGBTQ men from middle-class conservative towns. Throughout his campaign, he has proven to me that he has the boldness, intelligence, and selflessness to lead our country. That’s why I’m on Team Pete.

Joseph O’Kelly, UI first-year student

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