South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said Sunday he supports the students at the University of Notre Dame who walked out on Vice President Mike Pence during his commencement speech over his anti-LGBT views and the Trump administration’s approach to marginalized communities.
Buttigieg, the gay mayor who came to national prominence during his run to become chair of the Democratic National Committee, made the remarks to the Washington Blade about students within his city at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s annual D.C. brunch when asked about the walkout.
“What I appreciate about it is it’s clear that the students want to express their commitment to tolerance and the values that they believe a Catholic University ought to uphold, and that this administration is not compatible with those values,” Buttigieg said. “And at the same time, I think they found a very respectful way to do it.”
Buttigieg added he does “respect the office of the vice presidency, too,” and each student should make his or her own decision on the walkout, but the way demonstrators chose to protest was an appropriate way to speak out against the Trump administration.
“You go to a university in order to form your conscience and they’re expressing their conscience in a way that I really respect and admire,” Buttigieg said.
Asked to clarify if he’s supporting the action, Buttigieg replied, “Of course I am. I think every student’s wrestling with this issue: What do you do when you respect the office and you also think that the office is doing something that’s horribly wrong? And I just want to point to the way that they’re doing it as the most important feature of this protest.”
Buttigieg drew a contrast between the Pence walk-out and anti-abortion protests at former President Obama’s Notre Dame commencement speech in 2009.
“It’s not anything like the way President Obama was treated, and I think that’s to their credit,” Buttigieg said.
The South Bend mayor made the remarks as the commencement ceremony was taking place and admitted he “hadn’t seen yet what’s going down.” According to the Indianapolis Star, more than 100 students among the estimated 3,000 graduates quietly got up from their seats and left Notre Dame Stadium in protest of some of Pence’s policy positions.
Pence during his speech called Notre Dame a “vanguard of freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas,” commending the university at a time when he said “free speech and civility are waning on campuses across America,” the Star reported.
Ahead of the speech, student organizers said they intended to walk out over his anti-LGBT views, citing his decision to sign a “religious freedom” law in Indiana, and the administration’s hostility toward undocumented immigrants and sanctuary cities.
Also commending Notre Dame students’ decision to walk out on Pence was Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, who called the demonstration an act of bravery.
“Graduates around the country deserve commencement speakers who inspire them to propel our diverse country forward, and these Notre Dame students bravely told the world that Vice President Pence’s anti-LGBTQ actions fly in the face of unity and inspiration,” Elli said. “These Notre Dame graduates should be applauded for demonstrating true leadership and standing up for freedom and acceptance.”