Kudos for Utah Republican politician whose ‘heart has changed’ on gays

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Amid the outpouring of grief after the Orlando nightclub massacre that left 49 people dead, a Republican lieutenant governor in a deep-red state stood at a vigil organized by an LGBTQ group and apologized.

In an emotional speech that was published on Medium, Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox honored the slain and said he was sorry for how he treated kids growing up in his small hometown who he now realizes were gay.

[Editor’s note: Cox shares the same name as the late AIDS activist Spencer Cox of New York who died in 2012 of complications related to HIV.]

“Over the intervening years, my heart has changed,” he said in the Monday speech. “You have treated me with the kindness, dignity, and respect, the love that I very often did not deserve. And it has made me love you.”

His words have since resonated around the country and been tweeted by people like Dan Rather and Hillary Clinton.

“There is almost nothing that she and I agree on politically, but if we can agree on this, then that’s something,” Cox said in an interview Friday.

“We’ve become so divided as a country … but there’s this vast group of us who are just out there who believe we can disagree and still care about each other. It was sad to see that not happen in the moments after this horrific shooting,” Cox said Friday.

People have thanked him for articulating empathy with LGBTQ people from the perspective of a straight, white man who’s a member of the conservative Mormon faith — one that’s had a strained relationship with the LGBTQ community.

Equality Utah director Troy Williams, whose group organized the vigil where Cox spoke, said the speech was a meaningful recognition of the LGBTQ community’s grief at a time when overlapping issues like terrorism and gun control were also jockeying for place in the national conversation.

But Williams said there’s still work to do, pointing to Utah’s participation in a multi-state lawsuit against the federal government over transgender bathrooms.

“In many ways, he’s broken ranks and he’s stepped forward of his own volition to defend and comfort our community,” Williams said. “We hope this is the beginning of more dialogue.”

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