Pete Buttigieg had some emotional words on Saturday for one of his youngest supporters after he was asked by a 9-year-old boy for advice on coming out.
The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana — who made history as the nation’s first major openly gay presidential candidate — was answering questions submitted via fishbowl at his rally in Denver when the boy’s question was read aloud.
“Thank you for being brave. Would you help me tell the world I’m gay, too?” the boy, Zachary Ro, of Lone Tree, Colorado, had written. “I want to be brave like you.”
Buttigieg then invited Zachary on stage at the Crowne Plaza Denver Airport Convention Center to address him directly, as members of audience chanted “love is love.”
“I don’t think you need a lot of advice for me on bravery,” he told Zachary. “You seem pretty strong to me.”
“It took me a long time to figure out how to tell even my best friend that I was gay, let alone to go out there and tell the world and to see you willing to come to terms with who you are in a room full of 1,000 people, thousands of people you’ve never met,” Buttigieg added. “That’s, that’s really something.”
Their exchange was captured by the CNN cameras, which were taping the event for broadcast. Video of the moment soon made the rounds on social media, too.
Though Buttigieg was inspired by Zachary’s own self-knowledge, he did pass on a few tidbits of advice, stressing that the boy should always stay true to himself.
“The first thing is that it won’t always be easy, but that’s okay, because you know who you are,” Buttigieg said. “And that’s really important. Because when you know who you are, you have a center of gravity that can hold you together when all kinds of chaos is happening around you.”
He also advised the boy to be aware of the effect of his words and actions may have on other people, especially those who may be “watching you and deciding that they can be a little braver because you have been brave.”
“You will never know who is taking their lead from you,” Buttigieg said. “When I was trying to figure out who I was, I was afraid that who I was might mean that I could never make a difference. And what wound up happening instead is that it’s a huge part of the difference I get to make. I never could have seen that coming — and you’ll never know whose life you might be affecting right now just by standing here. There’s a lot of power in that.”
Buttigieg ended by telling the boy that he’d always be in his corner.
“Even if I can’t promise it’ll always be easy, I can promise you that I’m going to always be rooting for you, and I think there’s a whole bunch of people here who are going to be rooting you every step of the way,” he told Zachary, with the crowd erupting into applause.
“I think you already got it together, so I’m excited to see what you’re going to do as a leader,” he continued, before joking, “Just promise me you won’t run for president until after I’m done. Because I think you might be strong competition.”
Zachary — who had also gifted Buttigieg a handmade bracelet, which the presidential hopeful then wore — later spoke to local TV station KDVR about what the moment meant to him.
“I feel like he gave me some really good advice,” he said.
“I just feel inspired by Pete being openly gay and running for president at the same time,” he told KDVR. “And someday I want to be like him.”
As for Buttigieg, the candidate has come a long way since launching his campaign for president back in April 2019. Though he was basically unknown to America then, he’s picked up plenty of supporters along the way, besting more well-known candidates like Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris.
This month alone, he very narrowly won the Democratic caucus in Iowa and then very narrowly lost New Hampshire’s primary (though he tied in delegates won with Sen. Bernie Sanders) before coming in third in the Nevada primary.
Should Buttigieg’s wins continue — a steep challenge while facing Sanders and others — he could be the first gay president.
Regardless of what happens in the race, he and his husband Chasten are already thinking about fatherhood.
“Chasten is just especially wired to be a great parent,” Buttigieg told PEOPLE earlier this month. “We would hope to do [it] soon. One way or the other.”
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