"11 years ago, when I came out, I didn’t think there was a place for me in this world"

By Sam Gillette
May 28, 2019 04:42 PM
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KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP/Getty

Like many of the nearly two-dozen Democrats seeking to challenge President Donald Trump in next year’s election, Mayor Pete Buttigieg wants to change the face of politics. And his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, who could become the country’s first first man, is an integral part of that campaign.

Liberals and conservatives alike are watching the history-making couple, who were married less than a year when the mayor announced his presidential bid — launching them both onto the national stage.

Pete, who would be the first openly gay president, is the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana — the same state once governed by Vice President Mike Pence, who has a history of anti-gay politics.

A liberal voice in largely red part of the country, Pete is a veteran and outspoken Episcopalian who describes himself as a consensus-builder, able to translate Democratic ideas to conservative and Midwestern voters.

At his side is Chasten, a 29-year-old former middle school teacher who has quickly carved out his own place in the spotlight — in part thanks to his active Twitter, where he alternates sweet, humorous and political posts, and his regular interviews.

“He’s always got the right thing to say at the right time,” Kristie Bach, Chasten’s former high school drama teacher, told The Washington Post.

That sunniness belies his journey over the last decade and the obstacles he’s overcome after he came out to his family as a teenager. Recently, one of Chasten’s siblings has been guarded in his support.

Here’s what you need to know about Chasten’s life and his work alongside his husband.

“11 years ago, when I came out, I didn’t think there was a place for me in this world,” Chasten tweeted earlier this month while promoting a TIME cover story on him and his husband. “10 months ago we said ‘I do.’ 1 month ago we said ‘let’s do this.’ ”

The Challenges of Growing Up

Chasten (born Chasten Gelzman) was raised by working-class parents in Michigan and felt distinctly out of place compared to his older brothers, Rhyan and Dustin, who liked to hunt and play sports, according to his Post profile. But Chasten preferred to sing Celine Dion songs with his mom or read while his brothers were outside.

Bullied throughout high school, the drama student and member of the 4-H club didn’t quite fit in. Inside, he was “scratching and itching and clawing to try to change whatever brain chemistry was making me the way I was,” Chasten told the paper about grappling with his sexuality.

When Chasten came out to his family at 18, their reaction was alienating. “I don’t recall my parents specifically saying I couldn’t live at home anymore, but I was made to believe I needed to leave,” he told the New York Times in 2018.

He went on to live with friends and sleep in his car. Eventually, his mom invited him back home and in time his parents “proudly walk[ed] him down the aisle at his wedding,” according to the Post.

But his relationship with his brothers did not recover the same way, he said.

“I want the best for him,” Rhyan, a pastor in Michigan, told Post, noting that he does love his younger brother. “I just don’t support the gay lifestyle.”

Life After College

After Chasten graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire with a degree in theater and global studies, he worked at a youth theater academy, per the Post. He also worked part-time at Starbucks so he could have health care.

While he was taking a course in the coffee-master training program, a man entered the shop and pulled a knife on him, according to the Post. Chasten quit.

“I should have stuck it out,” he told the paper, “just to say I was a coffee master. Then you get the black apron.”

In the same interview, Chasten explained that he was sexually assaulted by someone he knew at a house party within months of coming out. Learning to trust again has been hard, he told the Post. “There’s a lot of baggage there, a lot of hurt, and [Pete] was so patient,” he said. “I’ve never felt so seen.”

Chasten (left) and Pete Buttigieg
Emma McIntyre/Getty

A Romantic Connection

In 2015, Chasten and Pete connected on the dating app Hinge.

Pete said in an interview with the podcast LGBTQ&A last month that he came across Chasten while “laid up and recovering from an injury.” It was the summer of 2015, and he is pretty sure he broke the ice.

Chasten was “pretty witty,” Pete recalled. They talked about Game of Thrones.

“A lot of time is kind of hanging out on my phone, and I just I could just tell by the chatting that he was somebody special and that I wanted to meet him,” Pete said.

After several long-distance FaceTime chats (at the time, Chasten was in a master’s program in Chicago, studying education), they had their first in-person date at an Irish bar in South Bend.

Pete knew he “had a shot,” after they connected over Scotch eggs, he told the Times last year. Later that night, they saw a baseball game and held hands while they watched post-game fireworks.

“Literally, there were fireworks on our first date,” Chasten told the paper. “It was kind of ridiculous, I know, but I was hooked.”

Pete proposed in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, the same place where Chasten first saw his dating profile, according to TIME. On June 16, 2018, they got married in the presence of 200 friends and family, later sharing a first dance to “When You Say Nothing At All,” according to the Times.

Chasten Buttigieg (center) attends The Prom, a Broadway musical about a gay Indiana teenager’s fight to take a girl to prom.
Chad Krauss

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Married Life and a Race to the White House

Now living together in South Bend, the two split duties: Chasten takes care of their two dogs, the shopping and the cooking. His husband handles the laundry, dishes and taking out the garbage, according to TIME.

On their fridge they’ve posted their wedding save-the-dates and a photo of them with Cher. While Chasten joked that he’s annoyed by Pete’s loud chewing, he’s there to support his husband for the long run — whether or not that involves a stint in the White House.

Chasten was folding laundry when Pete first told him about running for president, according the Post.

“I laughed,” Chasten said, per the outlet, “I was like, ‘No, no, no — are you serious? Okay, what are we thinking here? I love you. I believe in you. You’re amazing. Do you think this would work?’ ”

Speaking at a Human Rights Campaign event in April, he was taking his whirlwind year in stride.

“So I’ve had a busy couple months,” he said. “Never underestimate what can happen when you agree to go on a date with a cute guy from South Bend, Indiana.”