Mhyanif Lozada | Entertainment Director
In an uncertain time for LGBTQ+ youth, teacher and author Chasten Buttitgieg stresses the importance of sharing joy with loved ones in the Coral Gables Congregational Church.
In his memoir, Buttitgieg speaks about growing up as a queer person in the 1980s Midwest.
Though the tension around the recent Florida state legislature hung heavy in the air, laughter echoed in the church throughout Buttitgieg and Hidalgo’s discussion.
“Growing up in rural conservative Michigan, I did not think there was a way out. The first 18 years of my life, I did not know it was okay to be gay,” said Buttitgieg.
He wrote the book for a young adult audience after reflecting on how vulnerable or straightforward a memoir should be, ultimately deciding that he should be open about his experiences.
“For this book, I wanted to write the book I wish I had in eighth grade.”
Hidalgo, who advocates for queer, immigrant young people of color, mentioned how Buttitgieg’s book reveals how queer people have dealt with societal hurdles.
“We have had to be imaginative about our futures. There is no real model,” Hidalgo said.
Buttitgieg continued, reinforcing the importance of a good support system.
“After I came out, people said that ‘it [got] better.’ It only got better for me because I finally made a friend who told me it was okay to be myself,” Buttitgieg said.
“Life got better when my parents called me back after I ran away from home, because they cared more about their kid than the opinions of their community.”
The author recalled his first coming out experience when studying abroad in Germany during his senior year of high school, for which he forged his parents’ signatures to attend.
Buttitgieg told guests about the conversation he had with his newly-made German friend, where she asked if something was wrong.
“I finally told her, ‘I think I’m bisexual,’ and [she said that] I could also be gay. I remember asking her, ‘Are you sure?’” Buttitgieg jokingly said.
Hidalgo related this anecdote to her and Buttitgieg’s similar generational experiences regarding LGBTQ+ visibility.
“You and I came of age where it seemed like visibility for LGBTQ+ was what was going to help us win. Now we’re seeing that visibility and the backlash to it,” said Hidalgo.
Later in the event, Buttitgieg shared his advice for dealing with negativity, especially on social media.
“If you go looking for B.S [online], you will always find it. My kids, however, are right in front of me and they just want their dad to play with them,” said Buttitgieg.
“We should focus on what’s real and tangible, and not go hunting for negativity.”
As Buttitgieg and Hidalgo’s conversation finished, the mic was passed around the audience, with guests sharing stories or concerns with the speakers.
All attendees received a signed copy of “I Have Something to Tell You” following a final anecdote from Buttitgieg about how he and his husband, 2020 presidential candidate Peter Buttitieg, awkwardly met the singer Cher.
Guests left the church discussing their favorite part of the discussion and sharing experiences, and making connections with people in the community.
The night finished with a sentiment of strength and hope for better things to come.
“I just want my kids to grow up in a world where… the stories they’re watching aren’t all about loss and pain, and they can just be about joy,” said Buttitgieg.