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Government & Politics

'My Heart Has Changed': Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox Apologizes To LGBT Community


On Monday, Utah's lieutenant governor, Spencer Cox, went to a vigil for the victims and survivors of the mass shooting in Orlando, and he gave a pretty surprising speech. He said when he was a kid, he wasn't always nice to classmates who were different, classmates he later found out were gay.


SPENCER COX: I regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity and respect, the love that they deserved. For that, I sincerely and humbly apologize.

MCEVERS: Cox went on to say he has changed when it comes to how he thinks about the LGBT community. And I asked Cox why he, as a straight, Mormon Republican decided to give this speech.

COX: I realized that this was an important moment and an important moment for us to show unity. At the same time, especially on social media, I saw people retreating to their policy corners very, very quickly, more quickly than normal. And that troubled me that we weren't communicating and communicating to understand. And that involves a lot of listening. It just wasn't happening.

And when I was asked to do this, I felt like my LGBTQ friends were taking a leap of faith reaching out to, you know, a straight, male Republican to come and offer some thoughts. That's why I did it. I just wanted to be honest and share what was in my heart.

MCEVERS: You address your straight friends in your speech. You say, how did you feel when you heard about this attack? Did that feeling change when you found out this shooting was at a gay bar at 2 a.m. in the morning? And if that feeling did change, then we are doing something wrong.

I mean, had you heard that - that people had different feelings once they heard that it was at a gay nightclub?

COX: I hadn't heard that from people, but it's a question I had to ask myself. And I'm very happy to say that my feelings didn't change, but I'm not sure if that would've been the same a few years ago because I could imagine me, you know, 10 years ago, 20 years ago hearing that and being upset that there was this terrible tragedy and then finding out that it was at a gay bar and thinking, oh, well. You know, does that lessen it at all? I sincerely hope it doesn't with anyone.

But I think in our heart of hearts, we all kind of need to ask ourselves that question. And if it did change, then we have some work to do.

MCEVERS: How has your faith been a part of this decision, this change of heart?

COX: I can tell you it's probably the driving force in that. And I can also tell you that at times it was one of the things that held me back a little bit. But as I've grown as a person and especially as I've gotten to know people - members of this community and taken time to listen to people that are different than me - and what I came to realize was they're really not that different than me. And that's kind of simplistic I guess, but it was really eye-opening to see that the things we had in common were so much greater than the differences that we might've had, whether political or religious or otherwise.

MCEVERS: Because I think we have to say that, you know, Mormon leaders recently clarified that same-sex marriage is a "grievous sin" and that Mormons and same-sex marriages are considered apostates. As a prominent Mormon, how do you feel about that?

COX: Well, look; whether you see that as a sin or not I think is unimportant for this reason, and that is, I don't like to rank sins. And I clearly have many, many, many faults and many sins myself. And so I've just determined that none of that matters to me personally. I just have to do the best I can with what I have. And part of that is the commandment - and my church teaches this as well - that we are to love everyone as Jesus taught us.

MCEVERS: It's an interesting consequence - have a tragedy like this that - it's sort of surprising, you know? People come forward and talk about tolerance in this way. Do you think that's going to continue where you live?

COX: I certainly hope so. And not just where I live but across the country, people keep talking to me or texting me or tweeting me and saying, this exactly what I was thinking. And so it's one of those really rare moments where I think just by speaking what was in my heart, I was able to maybe give voice to what other people were feeling.

It's this idea that if we're just human and just honest, that even if people disagree with us, they won't hate us. And so I'm hoping, if nothing else, I give some cover to other politicians who are feeling these things but for whatever reason have talked themselves out of saying them. Just say it, and let the consequences be what they are.

MCEVERS: That's Utah's lieutenant governor, Spencer Cox. Thank you very much.

COX: Thank you, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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