At a Monday vigil in Salt Lake City for the victims of the Orlando shooting, Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox gave a moving, tearful speech apologizing to the LGBTQ community for treating them poorly in his early life, and expressing gratitude to them for helping him realize the error of his ways.
It's an incredible speech full of empathy and humility, and it’s worth watching in full. The speech is not only a moving tribute to the Orlando victims — it's also a great example of how to be a good ally to marginalized communities that you support but aren’t a member of.
Cox started off saying that he had "an admission and an apology" for the vigil attendees: "I recognize fully that I am a balding, youngish, middle-aged straight, white, male, Republican politician" (many in the crowd burst into laughter at this) "with all of the expectations and privileges that come with those labels. I am probably not who you expected to hear from today."
Cox continued: "I’m here because yesterday morning, 49 Americans were brutally murdered. ... I’m here because those 49 people were gay. I’m here because it shouldn’t matter. But I’m here because it does."
This was a powerful line, since it’s common for people to express support for LGBTQ Americans by saying something like, "It doesn't matter if you’re gay." It’s a well-meaning statement against homophobia. But it can also pose similar problems to the idea of "colorblindness," which many Americans were raised to believe was an anti-racist sentiment — but which can actually help obscure more subtle forms of discrimination. To many LGBTQ people and people of color, this part of their identity does matter a great deal. It’s part of who they are, and it’s also the reason they are sometimes hated and discriminated against.
Cox continued in a similar vein, conscious of his status as a straight man who can’t fully understand the lived experience of being LGBTQ but who feels empathy and solidarity with them:
I am not here to tell you that I know exactly what you are going through. I am not here to tell you that I feel your pain. I don’t pretend to know the depths of what you are feeling right now. But I do know what it feels like to be scared. And I do know what it feels like to be sad. And I do know what it feels like to be rejected. And, more importantly, I know what it feels like to be loved.
Cox talked about how he grew up in a small, rural town and that sometimes he "wasn’t kind" to kids in his high school class who were "different."
"I didn’t know it at the time, but I know now that they were gay. I regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity, and respect — the love — that they deserved. For that, I sincerely and humbly apologize."
Since then, he said, "My heart has changed. It has changed because of you. It has changed because I have gotten to know many of you. You have been patient with me."
Cox said that the 49 "beautiful, amazing people" who died in the attack "are not just statistics. These were individuals. These are human beings. They each have a story. They each had dreams, goals, talents, friends, family. They are you, and they are me."
He concluded by asking listeners to "be a little kinder," and to try to love someone who is different from them. "For my straight friends, might I suggest starting with someone who is gay," he said.
Cox, who is Mormon, was an outspoken supporter of Utah’s 2015 law prohibiting housing and employment discrimination against LGBTQ people. That law didn’t address controversial public accommodations issues, such as whether a baker can deny service to a gay couple buying a wedding cake. But because the law contained religious exemptions, the Mormon Church supported it fully.