Out Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg had a heartfelt response to Mike Pence‘s homophobic joke about him taking “maternity leave.”
Earlier this month at the Gridiron Club dinner, Pence joked that Buttigieg went on “maternity leave” in 2021 as Buttigieg took some time off to care for his premature twins. When his joke was received poorly in the media, Pence lashed out at Buttigieg, saying that “Pete Buttigieg not only can’t do his job but he can’t take a joke,” even though Buttigieg hadn’t publicly responded to Pence’s joke.
“When Pete’s two children were born, he took two months maternity leave, whereupon thousands of travelers were stranded in airports, the air traffic system shut down, aeroplanes nearly collided in midair,” Pence said. Saying Buttigieg went on “maternity” instead of “paternity leave” or “family leave” is a reference to Buttigieg’s sexuality. Many on the right have already told this joke, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and even The National Review.
Earlier this week Buttigieg responded to the “joke” on LZ Granderson’s Life Out Loud podcast. Granderson asked Buttigieg about Pence’s “attacks.”
“Don’t get me wrong, it is galling for people, especially people who go on television talking about family values,” Buttigieg responded. “And then when your actual family is struggling, they use it as a way to attack you or as a political football.”
“Don’t get me wrong, that definitely gets to you at some level. But at another level, you realize that that’s just politics.”
He said that his twins were born prematurely in 2021 and were hospitalized for the first two weeks of their lives. Both of them got seriously ill in their first year of life, with one of his children getting respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can be fatal. His husband, Chasten Buttigieg, has talked about how their other child turned purple and stopped breathing and how both of the infants had to be hospitalized again and put on oxygen.
“When you’re face-to-face with a life-or-death struggle involving a child and that comes out OK, it becomes less important to you that the political game comes out OK,” he said on the podcast. “Because if you got to choose between one of those things working out, it’s an easy choice. The things you want and need most to work out is the wellbeing of your family and it allows you to remember that so much of the rest is noise.”
Buttigieg said that Pence is just trying to get attention.
“I think the best answer to a lot of these attacks and a lot of this meanness that’s out there, the best answer is to be a thriving family or to do everything you can to be a thriving family,” he said. “The best answer to people out there who don’t even think we count as a real family is the love and the beauty of our family itself. It’s not a zinger. It’s not a tweet. It’s something that those critics will, maybe, never see for themselves and wouldn’t know how to respect if they did, which is the unconditional and enormous love that binds us together in this new family – that gives a different kind of meaning to my life.”