Last Friday, during a White House reception celebrating Pride Month, President Joe Biden touted his administration’s various efforts to achieve LGBTQ equality, while calling on Congress to adopt full federal nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
Joined by Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who is openly gay and the first out LGBTQ cabinet secretary to be confirmed by the Senate, Biden declared that the Pride Month reception “makes a simple, strong statement: Pride is back at the White House.”
The president said the month-long celebration, which commemorates the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, is about “being able to love yourself, love whoever you love, and love this country enough to make it more fair and more free and more just.”
Name-dropping Pennsylvania State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a current candidate for U.S. Senate who previously spoke at the Democratic Convention, Delaware State Sen. Sarah McBride, the first out transgender person to be elected as to an upper legislative chamber, and Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine, the first out transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate, Biden said that political representation and recognition matter, but so does achieving results, reports Politico.
“I’m proud to lead the most pro-LGBTQ equality administration in U.S. history,” he said.
As president, Biden has repealed the Trump-era policy that barred most transgender individuals from serving openly in the U.S. military, issued an executive order seeking to curb anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and pushed the State Department to advocate for LGBTQ rights and the decriminalization of homosexuality abroad.
Federal agencies, including the Department of Education and Department of Housing and Urban Development, have issued their own guidance seeking to implement pro-LGBTQ policies, and the State Department recently announced it will recognize the citizenship of children born abroad to married same-sex U.S. citizens — which became an issue of contention during the Trump administration.
Prior to the reception, Biden announced he would be appointing Jessica Stern, a well known LGBTQ advocate who previously served as executive director of OutRight Action International, to the position of U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons at the U.S. State Department. Stern becomes the first lesbian, and only the second person overall, to hold the position, which remained vacant throughout the Trump administration.
Earlier on Friday, Biden also signed legislation designating the site of Pulse, the Orlando nightclub where 49 individuals — mostly LGBTQ people of color — were killed and dozens more injured by a gunman in 2016, as a national memorial.
“A place of acceptance and joy became a place of unspeakable pain and loss,” Biden said in remarks at that bill signing ceremony. “We’ll never fully recover, but we’ll remember…. May no president ever have to sign another monument like this.”
Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised Biden for signing the Pulse National Memorial bill.
“On June 12, 2016, 107 lives — largely Black and Latinx — were violently altered by a horrifying act of hate during a celebratory moment of LGBTQ identity and joy. This moment of tragic loss serves as a painful reminder of the danger LGBTQ people across the country face every single day, and we must ensure that our nation preserves the memory of the 49 lives cut short,” David said in a statement.
“This is an important first step in honoring the unrealized lives of the victims,” David said of the bill. “We are committed to a continued fight for adequate protections of LGBTQ people and urge Congress to pass common sense gun violence prevention measures to prevent future tragedies. For far too long, LGBTQ people have been a target of anti-LGBTQ-motivated murder, assault, and discrimination — especially our trans and non-binary family — with gun violence. Federal action must be taken to actively combat this epidemic. We must honor the lives lost with action.”
Biden also used his remarks at the Pride Month reception to push for the Equality Act, a bill that would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, credit, housing, and public accommodations, among other areas. That bill passed the House in February, but has failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster in the U.S. Senate.
Republicans, for their part, have argued that the Equality Act is not deferential enough to those who object to LGBTQ equality based on their religious beliefs, and have either outright opposed the Act or thrown their support behind the Fairness for All Act, a bill that carves out a number of religious exemptions while also granting LGBTQ protections against discrimination.
“When a same-sex couple can be married in the morning but denied a lease in the afternoon for being gay, something is still wrong,” Biden said in his remarks. “In over half of our states, LGBTQ+ Americans still lack explicit state-level civil rights protections to shield them from discrimination. As I said as a presidential candidate and in my first joint address to Congress, it’s time for the United States Senate to pass the Equality Act and put the legislation on my desk.
“Harvey Milk was right when he said, ‘It takes no compromise to give people their rights.'”
Biden also claimed that passing the landmark LGBTQ rights bill would “help protect agains the disturbing proliferation of anti-LGBTQ bills” being passed by various Republican-led state legislatures. He called the bills — which range from barring transgender athletes from competing in sports to prohibiting them from accessing gender-affirming medical care — “some of the ugliest, most un-American laws I’ve seen.”
“Let’s be clear: This is nothing more than bullying disguised as legislation,” he said, noting that the Department of Justice has since filed statements of interest challenging two laws in West Virginia and Arkansas.
In response to questions from reporters, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the president’s signing various actions on LGBTQ rights are significant because of the outsized role that America plays on the global stage.
“[W]hat we do here and the values that we advocate for in the United States do send an important message around the world, and sometimes we forget that,” she said.
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