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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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The White House

Jill and Ashley Biden headline White House Pride celebration

First lady celebrated historic pardons of LGBTQ veterans

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First lady Jill Biden speaks at the White House Pride event on June 26. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden and the president and first lady’s daughter, Ashley Biden, headlined the White House Pride celebration on the South Lawn on Wednesday, followed by a performance by singer and actress Deborah Cox.

“My dad has built the most pro-equality administration” in history, Ashley Biden said, crediting the work of LGBTQ people of color like Marsha P. Johnson, a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising of 1969, as well as “so many of you [who] have continued to lead their fearless fighting against against injustice here and around the world.”

She introduced her mother as “the woman who taught me to be myself up showed me in so many ways how I can make a difference” and who “works every single day, tirelessly, to ensure that all people have the opportunities and freedoms that they deserve.”

“I hope that all of you feel that freedom and love on the South Lawn today,” Jill Biden said.

Her remarks were briefly interrupted by a protestor’s chants of “no Pride in genocide,” which was drowned out by chants of “four more years.”

The first lady noted how many of the attendees came “here from states that are passing laws targeting LGBTQ Americans.”

“There are those who see our communities and our families and wish to tear them down,” she said, “those who can’t see that the world is so much bigger and [more] beautiful than they know — but when our homes are threatened, when they strip away our rights, and deny our basic humanity, we say, ‘not on our watch.'”

“Pride is a celebration, but it is also a declaration,” the first lady said, highlighting the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges nine years ago, which established marriage equality as the law of the land.

She then credited the accomplishments of the Biden-Harris administration on matters of LGBTQ rights, including the repeal of the previous administration’s ban on military service by transgender servicemembers and the FDA’s loosening of restrictions on blood donation by gay and bisexual men.

The first lady also celebrated the president’s announcement earlier on Wednesday that he will pardon LGBTQ veterans who were discharged and court martialed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We will never stop fighting for this community,” she said.

First lady Jill Biden and daughter, Ashley Biden, attend the White House Pride celebration on June 26, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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The White House

HISTORIC: Biden pardons discharged LGBTQ veterans

Move will facilitate access to benefits they were denied

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President Joe Biden (Screen capture/YouTube)

President Joe Biden on Wednesday issued historic pardons for military service members who were discharged over their sexual orientation or gender identity under discriminatory policies of the past, like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Our nation’s service members stand on the frontlines of freedom, and risk their lives in order to defend our country,” he said in a statement. “Despite their courage and great sacrifice, thousands of LGBTQI+ service members were forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Some of these patriotic Americans were subject to court-martial, and have carried the burden of this great injustice for decades,” the president said.

“As commander-in-chief, I am committed to maintaining the finest fighting force in the world. That means making sure that every member of our military is safe and respected — so they can focus on their mission,” he said.

“This is about dignity, decency, and ensuring the culture of our Armed Forces reflect the values that make us an exceptional nation,” Biden said. “We have a sacred obligation to all of our service members — including our brave LGBTQI+ service members: To properly prepare and equip them when they are sent into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families when they return home.”

“Today we are making progress in that pursuit.”

The president also issued a Proclamation on Granting Pardon for Certain Violations of Article 125 Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which specifies that “The Military Departments (Army, Navy, or Air Force), or in the case of the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, shall provide information about and publicize application procedures for certificates of pardon.”

Veterans who were discharged for their sexual orientation or gender identity are barred from accessing benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Senior administration officials explained during a call with reporters on Tuesday that veterans who obtain certificates of pardon will be able to petition for a change in their discharge status, which can facilitate their access to benefits.

Officials on Tuesday’s call said they will proactively reach out to these service members to make them aware of the president’s clemency action and to connect them with pro-bono attorneys who can help them navigate the process.

“We intend, and have intended, to design this process in a way where people do not need attorneys to go through it, and we think it is easily accessible, but we also recognize that for some people, that would be beneficial, and so are busy at work trying to make those connections happen,” an official said.

The officials did not address a question from the Washington Blade about whether LGBTQ groups including those representing LGBTQ veterans were involved in the administration’s work leading up to the president’s issuance of the pardons, but several organizations celebrated the announcement on Wednesday.

“We applaud President Biden for taking action today, and the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to address this historic injustice that impacted thousands of LGBTQ+ people in the military for decades, with the effects still felt by many to this day,” said Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson.

“This move to rightfully restore reputations lost and gratitude owed to service members who were punished for who they loved is long overdue, and a significant step in the right direction,” she said.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis wrote on social media, “Today’s move by President Biden to pardon LGBTQ service members who were unfairly forced out of the military under the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is his administration’s 343rd pro-LGBTQ action. It is an important signal not only to the thousands of brave LGBTQ Americans who deserved better for defending our country but to all who understand that diversity, respect, and inclusion are American values.”

The Congressional Equality Caucus released a statement from the chair, U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.): “I thank President Biden for taking this important step to right the wrongs of the past and restore honor to LGBTQI+ Americans who bravely served their nation in uniform.” 

“This is an important step forward in addressing the wrongs of anti-equality policies like ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and I urge the Military Departments to ensure these pardons are processed as swiftly as possible,” the congressman said. “I am committed to building upon this important action, including by passing my Restore Honor to Service Members Act into law to ensure that the service and sacrifice of every veteran is honored, regardless of who they are or who they love.”

“PFLAG families have advocated for the dignity and respect due our LGBTQ+ heroes in uniform since the dark days of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and the shadow discharges that predated that discriminatory policy,” said PFLAG National CEO Brian K. Bond.

“As someone who worked on repeal during the Obama-Biden administration I met incredible patriots that just wanted to serve their country,” he said. “Thank you to the Biden-Harris administration and those who continue to fight for military families’ freedom to serve. This welcomed day is long overdue for thousands of LGBTQ+ veterans and their families.”

Lawyers for a group of LGBTQ veterans who are plaintiffs in Farrell v. Department of Defense also released a statement:

“We applaud President Biden and his administration for today’s announcement pardoning approximately 2,000 LGBTQ+ veterans who were court-martialed under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and similar policies. This is a necessary and important step in recognizing and remediating the harms — that still exist today — caused by these policies, despite their repeals.

“While the pardons represent an important milestone, we must emphasize that there is still critical work to be done. Those pardoned will still need to obtain new discharge papers from the Department of Defense, which are essential for accurately reflecting their service and accessing veterans’ benefits. And, of course, there are tens of thousands of other veterans who continue to suffer the ongoing stigma of their discriminatory discharge. 

“We will continue to vigorously litigate our case, Farrell v. Department of Defense, to ensure that all LGBTQ+ veterans who were wrongfully discharged from the military based on sexual orientation receive upgraded discharge papers with all indicators of sexual orientation removed. This remains a critical step for these veterans to receive the honor and status they rightfully deserve, having served our country with dignity and integrity.”

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The White House

Press secretary reaffirms the administration’s commitment to advancing LGBTQ rights

Karine Jean-Pierre also highlighted mental health efforts

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began her briefing with reporters on Monday by honoring Pride Month as a time to “reflect on the progress we have made in pursuit of equality, justice, inclusion” and “recommit ourselves to do more to support LGBTQI+ rights at home and around the world.”

She said that while the Biden-Harris administration has taken “historic action” to expand freedoms and protections for the community “since day one,” state legislatures last year filed more than 600 anti-LGBTQ bills, which disproportionately target transgender youth.

Not only are conservative state lawmakers potentially on track to surpass that number in 2024, but Republican members of Congress along with the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, have pledged their support for at least a dozen anti-LGBTQ policies at the federal level.

Jean-Pierre said this administration “is going to continue to speak out and stand up against these attacks,” adding, “as President Biden says, these young [transgender and queer] people are some of the bravest people he knows, but no one should have to be brave just to be themselves.”

The press secretary concluded her opener by discussing the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which provides a “line dedicated to serving LGBTQI+ young people that can be reached by dialing nine eight and pressing three.”

Afterwards, when fielding questions from reporters, Jean-Pierre noted how many of the challenges facing LGBTQ youth have dovetailed with the ongoing mental health crisis in America.

She also addressed a ruling on Monday that blocked the administration’s newly passed LGBTQ-inclusive Title IX rules, which clarify that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is covered by the statute’s language barring sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal assistance.

A Trump-appointed judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana had issued an injunction against the regulations on Thursday, with a handful of Republican state attorneys general promising more legal challenges.

Declining to address specific legal questions that she noted are best directed to the Justice Department, Jean-Pierre stressed the need for students to feel safe and to be treated equally.

“That is why the protections are all about making sure students have equal rights restored,” she said.

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