Advocates for LGBTQ+ people and the Biden administration are pointing to recent criticism of parental leave taken by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as evidence that the country needs new policies around paid leave. 

Buttigieg and his husband, Chasten, recently adopted twins, and the secretary took time off starting in mid-August. He is now returning to work. The details of his leave were first reported by Politico.  

Buttigieg, on MSNBC on Friday evening, talked about the awe he felt upon becoming a parent.

“Like so many working parents, I’m thinking about how best to meet that incredibly compelling responsibility while also of course the other responsibilities that I have in my day job,” Buttigieg said.

LGBTQ+ media advocacy organization GLAAD said that while the issue of paid parental leave is key for queer families, it’s one with resonance for all families. It called coverage of Buttigieg’s leave “a little puzzling.”

“Many companies are already expanding their parental leave policies to include both parents’ need and desire to bond with their children,” GLAAD said in a statement. 

Their comment came in the wake of a Politico newsletter asking if Buttigieg was “MIA” while pointing out he was on leave, as well as criticism by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who frequently targets women, immigrants, LGBTQ+ people and people of color on his show. Fox News offers paternity leave to its employees. 

Annise Parker, president of the LGBTQ Victory Insitute, which works to elect out public officials, accused Carlson of resorting to petty homophobic rants. 

“We should give Tucker the collective eye roll he deserves and use this opportunity to have a conversation about the policies America needs to ensure parents can succeed – including same-sex parents,” Parker said in a statement. “For the benefit of all families, America should adopt parental leave policies comparable to what almost all other developed nations offer.”

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Buttigieg, in his comments on MSNBC, linked his leave to administration policy.

“What’s really strange is that this is from a side of the aisle that used to claim the mantle of being pro family,” Buttigieg said of Carlson’s criticism. “What we have right now is an administration that is actually pro-family, and I’m blessed to be able to experience that as an employee.”

A proposal for paid parental leave is part of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. It would establish 12 weeks of paid parental leave for all new parents, irrespective of gender or sexual orientation. Fathers and adoptive parents would also qualify. It’s being weighed alongside other policies that would represent historic investments in care infrastructure, including a $450 billion provision to enact a universal prekindergarten program and raise wages for child care providers while lowering the cost of child care for parents. 

“As advocates we’re really proud of the provisions being discussed, including an inclusive definition of ‘family’ which really takes into account the nature and needs of families in America today,” said Dawn Huckelbridge, the director of Paid Leave for All, an advocacy group focused on establishing national paid family leave.

Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, is pregnant and expecting her first child any day now. She said she’s not yet sure how much parental leave she will take but that she has a contingency plan in place and that her experience has shaped how she thinks about policies the administration is putting forward. 

“It really does make you a more sympathetic person involved in policy making — so representation is real,” Young said. “As you’re going through it yourself, it rings more true to you, personally.” 

Despite efforts to normalize taking time off for the birth or adoption of a child for both parents, fathers in particular are still stigmatized for taking time off from work. It’s one of the reasons a national paid leave policy has experienced little momentum in the United States until quite recently, while nearly every other developed nation has had a policy in the books for several years, if not decades.  

The fact that that is not the standard, for both parents, is surprising, Young said. 

“That’s just a no-brainer for me that we need to make sure that moms and dads both have time with their children and that’s why you see the policies put forward because we think every American deserves that.”

Buttigieg said in a statement from the Transportation Department that his experience has also influenced his view of how important leave is. 

“The Secretary feels fortunate and grateful to be able to take time to focus on his responsibilities as a father, and believes all American parents deserve the same,” the statement said.