-- Utah's Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox gave a moving speech at a candlelight vigil in Salt Lake City held in honor of the victims of this weekend's shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, and his words have garnered national attention.
"I grew up in a small town and went to a small rural high school. There were some kids in my class that were different. Sometimes I wasn’t kind to them," Cox said in his speech on Monday night. "I didn’t know it at the time, but I know now that they were gay. I will forever regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity and respect — the love — that they deserved. For that, I sincerely and humbly apologize."
During parts of his speech, he appeared on the brink of tears.
"We are here because 49 beautiful, amazing people are gone. These are not just statistics. These were individuals. These are human beings." Cox said. "They each have a story. They each had dreams, goals, talents, friends, family. They are you, and they are me."
Cox told ABC News today that his change of heart was a gradual process.
"I wish I could point to one event or point in time, but it's just been a process, a journey over the last 20, 25 years that I have learned and grown and changed," he told ABC News. "As I have made a conscious effort to meet people who are different than me, especially in the LGBT community, I realized that they are not that different than me at all."
A friend of his who is openly gay, state Sen. Jim Dabakis, asked him to speak at Monday night's vigil, Cox said, adding, "We are in the middle of a re-election campaign, so I only had an hour right before to sit down and put my thoughts down."
He said he is glad he had only such a short time, because it allowed him to be more honest. He said he had no idea the speech would attract this much attention.
"I have been humbled and overwhelmed," he said. "I want to be really clear that I don't want this to be about me. I wish I didn't have to give this speech. I wish 49 people hadn't died tragically. But if we can grow closer together as a people and see our own humanity, then at least something positive will come out of this."
During his speech at the vigil, he said he believes there are two questions "that each of us needs to ask ourselves in our heart of hearts."
"And I am speaking now to the straight community," he told the crowd. "How did you feel when you heard that 49 people had been gunned down by a self-proclaimed terrorist? That’s the easy question. Here is the hard one: Did that feeling change when you found out the shooting was at a gay bar at 2 a.m. in the morning? If that feeling changed, then we are doing something wrong."
He concluded the speech by declaring solidarity and love from the people Utah to the people of Orlando. "On behalf of the 3 million people of the state of Utah, we are Orlando. We love you. And I love you."
Cox, a self-described conservative, is running for re-election, but he said he does not worry about any potential political consequences that could come from his display of solidarity with the LGBT community.
"The response has been overwhelmingly positive from the right and the left," Cox told ABC News. "I have not had one negative comment from conservative Republicans."
"The most common comment I got was that 'This is something I have felt. This is exactly what I was thinking. Thank you for giving voice to that,'" he said.