The president designates the Pulse gay nightclub – the site of a 2016 mass shooting in Orlando, Florida – a national memorial.
United States President Joe Biden celebrated Pride Month at the White House on Friday, a reflection of the growing stature of the LGBTQ community at the highest level of government.
“Pride Month represents so much,” Biden said. “It stands for courage. The courage of all those in previous generations and today who proudly live their truth. Stands for justice. Both the steps we’ve taken and the steps we need to take. And above all, Pride Month stands for love.”
Biden, in a shift from his Republican predecessor Donald Trump, has sought to emphasise equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, officially recognising Pride Month with a June 1 proclamation and nominating LGBTQ officials to top US government posts, among other actions.
“Our presence this afternoon makes a very strong statement: Pride is back at the White House,” Biden said, after being introduced by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who is openly gay, and a young transgender man, Ashton Mota.
“Us even being here proves how much change is possible in America,” Buttigieg said.
“So many lives have been changed, saved by the sustained advocacy, the moral resolve, the political courage of countless LGBTQ-plus leaders and allies, some elected, some invisible, some long gone, some in this room right now.”
A White House hallway was lit in the colours of the rainbow flag, a symbol of the LGBTQ movement, and Biden said he takes the hallway each day as he goes between the residence and the Oval Office. Also on display was a candle carried during the AIDS vigil and a pair of sandals owned by Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was fatally beaten in 1998 and whose death inspired new hate crime laws.
Also on Friday, Biden named Jessica Stern as a special diplomatic envoy at the State Department for LGBTQ rights. Her responsibilities will involve ensuring that US diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect LGBTQ rights around the world. Stern is currently executive director of OutRight Action International, which defends human rights and works to prevent LGBTQ people’s abuse.
In her new role, Stern will help put in place a presidential memorandum to advance the rights of LGBTQ people as well as bring together like-minded governments, nonprofits and corporations to uphold equality and dignity, according to the White House.
The focus also carries personal resonance for many in the Biden administration. Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House’s principal deputy press secretary, tweeted her own story on Friday about coming out to her mother at the age of 16 and the revolted look in response that left her sexuality a family secret for many years.
“I’m proud to be an out Black Queer woman and I have been for quite some time,” she wrote. “I’m happy to say, my Mother is now proud of ALL of who I am; she loves my partner and she loves being a doting grandmother to the daughter we are raising.”
Jean-Pierre added that her journey towards acceptance was not easy, but it was worthwhile.
Biden also signed into law on Friday a measure that designates the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida a national memorial. A mass shooting at the gay nightclub in June 2016 killed 49 people and wounded 53.
“We’ll never fully recover, but we’ll remember,” Biden said as he signed legislation establishing Florida’s National Pulse Memorial, joined by survivors of the shooting and lawmakers who worked on the measure.
“May … no president ever have to sign another monument like this.”