Pete Buttigieg may be poised to make history as the first openly LGBTQ person confirmed by the Senate to a cabinet position, but he successfully upstaged his own formal introduction by revisiting the story of his proposal to husband Chasten.
The former mayor of South Bend, Ind., was tapped by President-elect Joe Biden to lead the Department of Transportation this week, and last night both Biden and Buttigieg spoke about his historic nomination.
But it was a story about Buttigieg proposing to his husband at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport that captured both hearts and headlines.
After taking the stage, Buttigieg spoke of his connection to transportation, noting South Bend’s connections to river and rail, and manufacturing spaces for both the aerospace and automotive industries.
“I’ve also had a personal love of transportation ever since childhood,” he continued. “More than once, as a college student, I would convince a friend to travel nearly a thousand miles back to Indiana on Amtrak, though I know that in this administration, I will at best be the second biggest train enthusiast,” he continued, referencing Biden’s much publicized love of commuting by train.
“Travel in my mind is synonymous with adventure, growth, and, even love, so much so that I proposed to my husband, Chasten, in an airport terminal,” Buttigieg said. “Don’t let anyone tell you O’Hare isn’t romantic.”
Pete Buttigieg: "Travel in my mind is synonymous with growth, with adventure — even love. So much so that I proposed to my husband Chasten in an airport terminal. Don't let anybody tell you that O'Hare isn't romantic." https://t.co/yE4AcCDMuTpic.twitter.com/lrX3S9dhai
That last line in particular struck home for the people in charge of O’Hare’s Twitter account.
“Thank you for appreciating all the connections we make possible @PeteButtigieg,” the airport tweeted. “Looking forward to working with you as we continue to make our airport lovable for decades to come.”
The airport later updated its Twitter bio to include “Place of romance.”
After Chasten Buttigieg tweeted to confirm that the proposal took place at gate B5, United Airlines got in on the fun, tweeting, “It was B5. Proof that love actually is all around.”
The gate holds significance for the couple, as it was where Chasten, waiting for a flight, first noticed Buttigieg’s dating profile and struck up a conversation.
During his speech, Buttigieg thanked Chasten, a high school teacher and now bestselling author, for “all that he does, and for his sacrifices, to support me in pursuing public service.”
In addition to laying out the various challenges facing transportation in the U.S., Buttigieg also touched upon the historic nature of his nomination — and the impact it could have for LGBTQ youth.
“I am also mindful that the eyes of history are on this appointment — knowing this is the first time an American president has ever sent an openly LGBTQ cabinet nominee to the Senate for confirmation,” he said. “I can remember watching the news, 17 years old, and seeing a story about an appointee of President Clinton [philanthropist and LGBTQ activist James Hormel], named to be an ambassador, attacked and ultimately denied a vote in the Senate, because he was gay — ultimately able to serve only by a recess appointment.
“At the time I had no aspirations, then, of being appointed by a president to anything. At that age, I was hoping to be an airline pilot,” Buttigieg continued. “And I was a long way from coming out, even to myself. But still, I watched that story, and I learned about some of the limits that exist in this country when it comes to who is allowed to belong. And just as important, I saw how those limits could be challenged.
“So two decades later, I can’t help but think of a 17-year-old who might be watching right now, someone who wonders whether and where they belong in the world, or even in their own family, and I’m thinking about the message today’s announcement is sending to them,” he added. “So thank you, Mr. President-elect, for honoring your commitment to diversity with this administration you’re assembling. And thank you, Madam Vice President-elect [Kamala Harris], for your trailblazing leadership, your encouragement, and your friendship.”
In his own speech, Biden referenced the “varied experiences and backgrounds” of his cabinet, which he said would be “the most representative of any in our history” and a “Cabinet of firsts.”
“Our Cabinet does not just have one first or just two of these firsts, but eight precedent-busting appointments,” the President-elect said. “And today, a ninth: the first-ever openly gay nominee to lead a Cabinet department, and one of the youngest Cabinet members ever.”
Biden then spoke about Buttigieg personally, noting his fondness for his former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Buttigieg, a former frontrunner, ended his campaign prior to Super Tuesday and threw his support behind Biden, becoming a vocal and effective surrogate for the campaign.)
“He’s one of the smartest people you will ever meet, and one of the most humble,” Biden said. “Mayor from the heartland, a management expert, and a policy wonk with a big heart…. Pete’s got the perspective of a mayor that solves problems and brings people together.”
Biden also gave a shout out to Chasten, saying, ““His husband is an educator — always a mark of good character. Jill and I always enjoyed seeing Pete and Chasten together on the trail.”
Vice President-elect Harris, in a video message, noted that she and husband Doug Emhoff had developed a close friendship with the Buttigiegs during her own campaign for the Democratic nomination and Biden’s campaign for the presidency, saying, “Along the way, Pete and his wonderful husband, Chasten, have become very dear friends of Doug’s and mine.”
Calling Buttigieg an “innovative problem solver,” she praised him for having a “sharp intellect and a deep commitment to uniting people across party lines and meeting our challenges together.”
“Now Pete will bring his remarkable talents to bear — not just on behalf of the people of South Bend, but on behalf of people across our nation,” Harris said.
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