U.S.

Pete Buttigieg Used Sign Language to Thank a Supporter Who Says It Was a ‘Huge Moment for the Deaf Community’

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has been applauded online this week for sending a video message to a supporter while using American Sign Language (ASL), a move the recipient told Newsweek was a “huge moment for the deaf community.”

Buttigieg, who is campaigning for the Democratic nomination, responded in a tweet Wednesday to Anderson “Andy” Pleasants. In the post, which has since gained thousands of shares and likes, he signaled: “Hi Andy, I appreciate your support, thank you!"

On April 15, Pleasants shared a sign name he had created for the South Bend, Indiana, mayor, who has surged in popularity—and the polls—in the weeks since announcing his bid for the White House. Underneath Wednesday’s post from Buttigieg, hundreds of users praised the sentiment.

“I’m not on the Buttigieg bandwagon…having said that I just like Mayor Pete, and this makes me like him more—my spirit was fed by this exchange. Thanks, I needed it,” one person noted. Another user added that it was “rare to feel this much pride in supporting a candidate.”

Pleasants, who was born with Goldenhar syndrome, responded Wednesday with his own clip and said in a post he had “teared up” after seeing Buttigieg’s message. 

“Right from the very opening second when Pete waved his hand, I knew instantly it was a reply in American Sign Language,” Pleasants told Newsweek.

“I remember my chest just freezing up and the tears filling up my eyes within milliseconds. I was so overcome with emotion. I’d never seen a presidential candidate take that initiative to meet me, a deaf individual, as an equal, instead of having that communication divide be the sole burden of the deaf person. It set an example of how our society can be more inclusive and put forth the effort to break down the communication barriers that follow so many deaf lives.”

He went on: “It meant so much that my language and proud deaf cultural identity was respected and valued enough by a leader to put in the effort to start to learn and use ASL. It was a huge moment for the deaf community and for the appreciation of American Sign Language as a language!”

Buttigieg reportedly speaks seven foreign languages, including Arabic, Norwegian, Spanish and Italian. Earlier this month, following the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, he was lauded online for paying respects in French during a TV interview.

On March 30, Pleasants said in a video that it would be a “dream” to work on the candidate’s campaign and help create positive change while elevating “the voices of those like me.”

“For years, the political and social issues of deaf Americans as well as the disabled have been placed on a lower tier. With Pete, I believe there’s a leader with the kind of open mind and ability to elevate the deaf and disabled communities/culture up to the mainstream,” Pleasants told Newsweek. “Everyone has a voice in politics, including us.”

On Tuesday, a national poll compiled by data company Morning Consult suggested that Buttigieg was now in third place, with 9 percent, ahead of rivals Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke. Joe Biden remained the top pick for Democratic voters, The Hill reported. It remains to be seen how Biden's candidacy, announced Thursday, will affect Buttigieg's campaign. 

A representative for Buttigieg did not immediately respond to request for comment about his policies for disabled citizens. In March, the candidate—an openly gay military veteran—told the hosts of The Breakfast Club podcast that he hopes citizens can use their “identities to reach other people.”

He said: “There's two things that can happen when you are conscious of your identity. One is it turns into all these ways we separate ourselves from each other, and it just turns into one big ‘you don't know me.’ But the other way we can do it is we can say, ‘OK, I've got this experience, you've got this experience, what can we talk about that brings us together?’” 

Pleasants told Newsweek he appreciated the message. “The simple act of inclusion and respect has reignited my passion for public service, and I feel a surge of confidence in who I am to step up and pursue my dream career of politics to represent and support those like me."

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