Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten have become parents. This puts them among the highest-visibility LGBTQ parents in the country, and that visibility has the potential to help further the acceptance of LGBTQ parents as a whole. They cannot, however, do this alone.
Secretary Buttigieg tweeted on August 17: “For some time, Chasten and I have wanted to grow our family. We’re overjoyed to share that we’ve become parents! The process isn’t done yet and we’re thankful for the love, support, and respect for our privacy that has been offered to us. We can’t wait to share more soon.”
Chasten Buttigieg had told the Washington Post in July that the two of them had been trying to adopt for over a year, “going through home studies and parenting workshops.”
Pete Buttiegieg is not the first LGBTQ parent in this administration. Dr. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services, is the country’s highest-ranking transgender official and has two grown children. Other LGBTQ parents in the Biden administration include Karine Jean-Pierre, principal deputy press secretary, and Pili Tobar, deputy White House communications director. Biden also recently nominated Charlotte Sweeney, a Colorado employee rights attorney, to the federal judiciary, and reappointed Sharon Kleinbaum, a prominent New York rabbi, to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Both are queer parents.
Yet Secretary Buttigieg is a cabinet member, and one whom the Washington Post recently called “the most visible member of the Cabinet” because of his role in pushing for the President’s infrastructure plan. That makes his visibility as a queer parent that much more important. He’s also the only one (so far) starting his family while in office, which means the country will get to know his family from the beginning.
Having said that, I will firmly assert that the Buttigiegs — and any celebrity parents — do not owe it to us to offer any details of their child’s private life. There are security issues here, plus the simple fact that it is up to them (and to their children, when they are old enough) to decide how much or little they wish to share.
Even if they continue to protect their family’s privacy, though, Secretary Buttigieg’s presence as a queer dad in the halls of Washington will remind policymakers at the highest levels that LGBTQ families exist and that our need for equality must be taken seriously. And Chasten Buttigieg, a teacher, author, and advocate, shows no sign of slowing down his own work, which I imagine will continue even after parenthood. (He might have less free time, but he’ll have even more motivation.)
Not only that, but I hope the Buttigiegs’ example will remind those who need reminding that men are perfectly capable of being primary caretakers of their children. I still hear tales of men being asked if they are “babysitting” when they spend time with their children, as if “parenting” was their wife’s role. Parents of all genders and sexual identities can benefit when we stop associating childrearing solely with women. We may then feel freer to divide childcare, household, and employment responsibilities based on skills, interest, and circumstance rather than gender — and children will benefit in turn.
Perhaps, too, when we finally view child raising as a task for all, not just women, our country will finally see the need for truly family-friendly policies around childcare, family leave, and related issues. (And yes, we should have done this long ago, when women first started speaking out on the matter.)
The Buttigiegs, however, bring only one couple’s example to the table — we also need the examples and viewpoints of transgender parents, bisexual parents, two-mom couples, single queer parents, and those who used assisted reproduction, among others, from various racial/ethnic backgrounds and other dimensions of diversity. This is why we should be grateful to have the other queer parents above (and perhaps more to come) in prominent roles.
They will not necessarily push for specific policymaking around LGBTQ family issues — but any action of the U.S. government touches LGBTQ families because we are woven into the fabric of U.S. society. Having queer parents in the halls of Washington and the halls of justice around the country will make it more likely that the needs and perspectives of LGBTQ families are considered.
We should remember, however, that Secretary Buttigieg and the other queer parents in this administration stand on the shoulders of other queer parents who have for decades fought for equality and inclusion — ones who have achieved some level of public recognition and the many more who have simply been members of their local communities, making a difference one inclusive school form at a time. We cannot rely on our celebrities alone to save us. Their presence is only effective when coupled with our own ongoing work in our communities, states, and nation.
Buttigieg, who ran for president in 2020, likely still aspires to the country’s highest office. Does that mean we might have a president (or at least a candidate) in the foreseeable future who is also a queer parent? That could very well be — and could raise visibility for our families even further. For the moment, though, let us congratulate the Secretary of Transportation and his husband on their growing family (and the doubtless many toy cars, trains, and bicycles they will receive). They are about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory, with a searchable database of 750+ LGBTQ family books, media, and more.