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Story highlights

Cox apologized at a vigil Monday in Salt Lake City a day after Omar Mateen killed 49 people in a gay nightclub

"It's amazing when you try to reach out and get to know and love someone who is different than you," Spencer Cox told CNN

(CNN) —  

Utah’s second-highest-ranking public official says the Orlando massacre has prompted him to apologize to the LGBT community for his role in perpetuating homophobia.

“As I’ve gotten to know more people from the LGBT community, their love, their kindness, their patience with me – it’s amazing when you try to reach out and get to know and love someone who is different than you – you find out remarkably that we’re really not that different,” Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox told CNN’s Don Lemon Friday.

Cox apologized at a vigil Monday in Salt Lake City a day after Omar Mateen killed 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando. A video of the speech has gone viral.

“I’m here because yesterday morning, 49 Americans were brutally murdered,” Cox said Monday. “I’m here because those 49 people were gay. I’m here because it shouldn’t matter. But I’m here because it does.”

The Republican told CNN that he regretted not standing up for gay people in his youth.

“I didn’t know they were gay, I just knew they were different,” he said. “Sometimes I would make jokes, say things that weren’t appropriate – not necessarily to them, but about them, on occasion. I certainly didn’t go out of my way to be friends with them. Those are the things I regret the most.”

Lemon asked Cox what he would say to Republicans when it comes to LGBT matters, because, as he put it, “Republicans do not have a good track record when it comes to supporting gay issues.”

“What I would say to them is: Let’s start where we can,” Cox replied. “We have to start looking at each other and caring about each other as individuals and as people.”

Asked about the response he’s received so far, Cox said it’s been “universally” positive.

“There have been nothing but positive comments from the left and the right – just universally,” he said. “That’s the crazy thing, it seems like this is what people have felt, but no one really has said it.”

CNN’s Rachel Chason contributed to this report.