INDIANAPOLIS – South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg came out as gay Tuesday, declaring in a lengthy and personal newspaper editorial that it took him years to accept that his sexuality is just "part of who I am."
Buttigieg, the first-term Democratic mayor of Indiana's fourth-largest city, said in the essay published in the South Bend Tribune that it wasn't easy for him to divulge his sexuality, in part because Midwesterners "are instinctively private to begin with."
But Buttigieg, 33, noted he was well into adulthood before he was prepared to acknowledge to friends and relatives that he's gay.
"It took years of struggle and growth for me to recognize that it's just a fact of life, like having brown hair, and part of who I am," he wrote.
Buttigieg, who is seeking re-election this year, writes that being gay has no bearing on his service as a Navy reservist or his performance as mayor of the city that's home to the University of Notre Dame, the nation's most prominent Roman Catholic university.
"It makes me no better or worse at handling a spreadsheet, a rifle, a committee meeting, or a hiring decision," he writes.
Notre Dame's president, the Rev. John Jenkins, said Tuesday in a statement that he's "grateful to Mayor Buttigieg for his admirably honest, thoughtful and very personal statement, and endorse his call that we find a way to address difficult and often divisive issues together and without acrimony."
Buttigieg, a former Rhodes scholar, won election in 2011 with 74 percent of the vote in the heavily Democratic city that last had a Republican mayor in the early 1970s.
The State Theatre in downtown South Bend updated its marquee Tuesday with a message reading, "Thanks for being you, Mayor Pete."
Buttigieg noted that gender orientation is an "often divisive" issue in Indiana, which faced a national backlash this year over a religious objections law that critics claimed would sanction discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Some companies banned travel and threatened to cancel conventions in Indiana, prompting lawmakers to clarify the law.
Micah Clark, executive director of the conservative Christian group American Family Association of Indiana, said he doesn't consider Buttigieg's announcement "relevant," saying that if "a mayor announced that he's heterosexual it wouldn't matter, either."
"The people elected him based on where he stands on the issues, not what he does in his private life," Clark said.
Buttigieg said he hopes his coming out will help youths who are struggling with their own sexuality to feel less alone and boost acceptance of the LGBT community in the state.
"For a conservative resident from a different generation, whose unease with social change is partly rooted in the impression that he doesn't know anyone gay, perhaps a familiar face can be a reminder that we're all in this together as a community," he wrote in the editorial.
"This kind of social change, considered old news in some parts of the country, is still often divisive around here. But it doesn't have to be."
Buttigieg is a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve and served a seven-month deployment in Afghanistan last year.