Hopeful is the word that describes the hour and a half spent in the presence of a young man who grew up in Traverse City and has been thrust into the limelight of a presidential campaign. Chasten Buttigieg is the husband of Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Chasten struggled with his identity having come out the other side with a great appreciation of his life and current happiness. He expresses deep empathy with all marginalized groups such as women, people of color, the homeless and veterans. He is not bitter but hopeful. He is ready to work hard to meet their challenges.
Chasten was introduced by his drama teacher from TC West, Christy Bach, who helped him find acceptance and success while in high school. Susan Odgers, who teaches at NMC, talked about Chasten being in her Sexuality class. She has seen an evolution of appreciation for sexual diversity in people and their inherent value over 30 years in our area. Jim Carruthers talked about the changes he has seen since 1989 when he moved here.
Chasten started the program talking about his family and his parents who were in the front row, and how much their love and support means to him. He also discussed the struggles a young man feels when he just doesn’t fit in. He made the statement that “the closet kills!” It means that denying who you really are can lead to depression, despair and suicide. That simple statement really crystalized for me the importance of being an ally to anyone on the LGBTQ spectrum.
Questions from the audience were read by his drama teacher, Christy Bach. The first was about his priorities if he became First Gentleman. He talked about the White House as the People’s House and how he would invite ordinary citizens in as much as possible. He would advocate for the homeless, veterans and LGBTQ citizens, and for the arts and theater programs to help people find their passion.
Chasten is a teacher and wants to “respect teachers as soldiers and pay them like doctors.” It is a glib line, but he realizes that students are not robots but human beings. Helping them develop is what education is about.
Chasten was asked about what had surprised him on the campaign trail. He talked about how many people feel that politics are far away and not happening to them. They often feel powerless, and in need of programs like Obamacare, or the ACA, to make their lives better. He also has been amazed by the amount of racism, sexism and animosity he sees toward immigrants. He said it is easier to divide people than to build hope. He believes that Pete Buttigieg can build hope and bring people together.
Chasten suggested that we all can help by talking about how older people like the idea of young leadership and respect the fact that millennials have to deal with problems such as climate change. They need a strong voice and support in order to meet this challenge. Also, please send money. Every little bit helps.
He said he has a great team that plans his events. He and Pete try to be together several nights every week. He insists that he gets to go to homeless centers, to talk to teachers and to meet with veterans. This is a grassroots campaign and he is out there meeting with real people.
He shared two personal stories about Pete. The first involved a trip to the UP when they had a new hybrid car. Chasten and his Dad told Pete to get the “purple blinker fluid” at a gas station in the wilds of the UP. They could see him going up and down aisles looking for it before Chasten’s mom went to rescue Pete from the family jokesters. The next was how Pete remembered the anniversary of their first date that Chasten had completely forgotten. By the way, Chasten would love to be a Gryffindor but says he is really a Hufflepuff for all us Harry Potter fans.
Chasten spoke about the intergenerational alliance that Pete is trying to forge. It is necessary to address the effects of climate change and tax cuts for the wealthy corporations. He did refer people to the website for the campaign www.MeetPete.org to learn about Pete’s plans on issues. He said he would not speak for his husband but referred us to this resource.
The next question was the toughest. A person who had been on a panel in Susan Odgers’ class asked if he remembered that they had talked after the class. The memories of that challenging time moved Chasten to tears. He choked out that he NEVER TAKES A SINGLE DAY OF THIS LIFE FOR GRANTED. The discussion that day helped him face the difficulties of being a gay man and helped him survive to have this chance at life and love. He asked us all to applaud that person who had been honest and open when he and other people needed it. We were all standing and applauding, feeling the power that understanding the struggles of LGBTQ youth can bring.
Chasten said that Pete is studying multiple binders prepared for him to get ready for the debate. Chasten will be there and knows that Pete does well under pressure. Pete stays sane by reading scholarly books while Chasten doodles, plays Risk on his phone, or listens to audio books.
The final questioner asked Chasten to convince us that Pete Buttigieg can defeat Donald Trump. He answered that:
Pete is in a faithful loving marriage. He said Trump…and gestured off to the side.
Pete is well spoken and can think and explain his thinking and gestured to the other side.
Pete is a stable well-educated person. No need for comparison there!
Hope is harder to build but Pete is doing just that.
Chasten was breath of fresh air and hope. His abilities as a drama student and as a teacher make him perfectly comfortable on a stage. He is a symbol of the growth our country has experienced in welcoming all people. It was wonderful to spend an hour in his presence.