MSNBC host Rachel Maddow pressed 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Monday about the personal journey he took to come out as an openly gay public figure in conservative Indiana.
Maddow, 46, prefaced the conversation by warning the mayor of South Bend, Ind., that she had "an awkward question" for him, before explaining how she was the first openly gay American Rhodes Scholar in 1995, more than a decade before Buttigieg, 37, was awarded the same honor.
"You went through college, and then the Rhodes scholarship process, and getting the Rhodes scholarship, and going to work for McKinsey, and joining the Navy, and deploying to Afghanistan, and coming home, and running for mayor in your hometown, and getting elected before you came out at the age of 33," Maddow said on her show.
"I think it would have killed me to be closeted that long," she told Buttigieg. "I think about what it takes as a human being to know something and to have to bifurcate your public life. For you to have had all of those difficult transitions, and experiences, and to be aiming as high as you were all of that time, and not coming out until your early 30s, I wonder if that was hurtful to you? If it hurt you to do it?"
Buttigieg, who officially announced his White House bid in South Bend alongside husband Chasten on Sunday, said it was a trying time because of his own denial.
"I guess I just really needed to not be," he said. "There's this war that breaks out inside a lot of people when they realize that they might be something they're afraid of. It took me a very long time to resolve that."
Buttigieg, who clinched his first term in 2011 when he was 29, came out in an opinion piece published in the South Bend Tribune ahead of his reelection, which he went on to win with 80% of the vote. If he secures the Democratic Party's nomination and subsequently wins the presidential election, he could be the first openly gay president.
"It was kind of a leap of faith," he said. "Don't get me wrong. As you know, there's plenty of ugliness that comes in from all over the place. Most people I think are either supportive or even enthusiastic about the idea of the first out person going this far. Or they find a way to let me know they don't care, and that's historic, too."
Buttigieg, a Harvard University graduate, served in Afghanistan in 2014 as a Naval Reserve officer. He unsuccessfully contested the Democratic National Committee chairmanship in 2017 and is now slowly climbing in the national 2020 polls to draw about 4.2% of the vote, according to RealClearPolitics' average of polls.
Buttigieg told Maddow he would like one year of national service, whether civilian or military, to be "a social norm."
"We're going to have to create more service year opportunities and we're going to have to find a way to fund it, but I think it's worth approaching," he said.