Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg broke multiple barriers this month when he was sworn in as President Joe Biden’s transportation secretary. He became the first openly gay Cabinet member to win Senate confirmation and the youngest person, at 39, to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“You can really feel the history swirling around us when the vice president was swearing me in with my husband, Chasten, at my side,” Buttigieg said in an interview with NBC News’ Snapchat show “Stay Tuned.” Vice President Kamala Harris, like Buttigieg, made political history this year: She is the first woman and first Black and South Asian person to hold the country’s second-highest office.
Buttigieg, who served in the military under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, noted that it was not long ago that someone like him would have been explicitly prohibited from holding any government job.
“There have been times in living memory where you couldn't have any job in the federal government if you were gay. Thousands of people lost their jobs, lost their livelihoods because of that kind of discrimination,” he said. “So it's a really encouraging sign about the change that can happen but also a reminder that we've got a long way to go.”
In addition to being open about his sexual orientation and his marriage, Buttigieg is also known to speak openly about his Christian faith. And while nearly half of LGBTQ Americans identify as religious, Buttigieg acknowledged that the two communities are sometimes pitted against each other.
“As a married gay man and as a believer, I think about this a lot, and sometimes I do feel like we have to sort of defend the LGBTQ community within the church,” he said. “Then again, there are a lot of times when I feel like I'm defending the church in the LGBTQ community or the progressives — especially because there are so many people in our community whose experience with faith or with religion is one of exclusion and one of hurt.”
Part of his mission now, he said, is to bring together the faith and LGBTQ communities by sharing an interpretation of scripture that is more accepting.
“Making sure to connect people with a different experience, a more inclusive vision of what faith can be, I think that's something that is very much alive in the Christian community,” he said. “At the end of the day, I believe that, certainly the faith that I subscribe to and the faith tradition that I'm part of, is about compassion and love.”
Like all politicians, Buttigieg has his critics, whether they take issue with his job experience, his age, his sexuality or his faith. Ultimately, he said, he’ll be judged on his performance — and he’s fine with that.
“The great thing about public service is that you have an opportunity to deliver,” he said. “If you do a good job, nobody cares how old you are, nobody cares if you're gay, nobody cares about anything in your life so much as you're making their lives better.”