President Biden stood on a stage decorated with rainbows and spoke to a crowd, including survivors of gay nightclub shootings and advocates for transgender rights.
“We are addressing these civil rights violations,” Mr Biden said at a Pride Month event held Saturday afternoon at the White House, “because that is what they are.”
Speaking at the Pride event — which had been postponed earlier this week due to smoke from Canada’s wildfires — the president said his administration had taken steps to protect the civil rights of LGBTQ Americans, including appointing an official within the Ministry of Education which will monitor and address the growing number of local book bans with references to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.
Neera Tanden, the White House domestic policy adviser, told CBS News the official would guide school districts, warning them that book bans “could violate federal civil laws if they create a hostile environment for students.”
According to a fact sheet released by the Biden administration, the Justice Department and other agencies will also designate officials to work with members of the LGBTQ community on issues of concern. Federal funds will be spent on support programs for the parents of LGBTQ youth, police training on helping victims of hate crimes, and safety briefings for health care providers and activist organizations.
As of 2021, at least 20 Republican-led states have passed laws governing the lives and medical care of young transgender people. Conservative activists and parents have attempted to ban books about LGBTQ people and protested outside events where drag queens read to children.
“This year’s Pride is caught between pushing and pulling progress,” Jill Biden, the first lady, said during her own series of remarks, referring to the series of conservative bills and laws. “Outside the gates of this house are those who want to drag our country backwards.”
Mr Biden also attacked laws that have allowed business owners to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on their religious or personal beliefs.
“If someone can be married in the morning and kicked out of a restaurant in the afternoon for being gay, there is still something very wrong in America,” Biden said.
Mr Biden called on Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would strengthen protections against discrimination for LGBTQ Americans. The president also reiterated his plea for Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons, citing mass shootings at the Club Q and Pulse nightclubs.
Both attempts have little to no chance of success in a divided Congress.
Several Republican presidential candidates, including former President Donald J. Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have supported broad restrictions on gender-affirming care for transgender people and on LGBTQ issues in education and public life. They have interpreted the measures as efforts to protect children and defend themselves against liberal views in America’s culture wars. A majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, but the public has more complicated views on transgender rights, according to polls from the Pew Research Center.
Mr Biden and his advisers have argued that the rights of transgender people and others in the LGBTQ community should not be used as grist for culture war battles, an argument the president made at length on Saturday.
“These laws and laws attack the most fundamental values and freedoms we have as Americans,” Biden said. “The right to be yourself. The right to make your own health decisions. The right to raise your children.
“I recognize, for many people in this country, maybe it’s not you, your child, your family members who are going through what a transgender child and family is going through. But I think we can all agree: if it were you, you’d want the space to sort it out with your family and your doctor.”
As vice president, Mr Biden became a public supporter of same-sex marriage before President Barack Obama processed his “evolving” views on the issue.
“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men who marry men, women who marry women, and heterosexual men and women who marry each other are entitled to the exact same rights, all civil rights, all civil liberties,” Biden said in May 2012. Obama was quick to say he supported same-sex marriage.
Eleven years later, same-sex marriage is the law of the land and Mr. Biden is president.
“This government is behind you,” he said to applause on Saturday.
People gathered at the White House offered a gesture of support for the president and his efforts: “Four more years,” they chanted.
“You enrich every part of American life,” Mr. Biden told the crowd. “You are some of the bravest, most inspiring people I’ve ever known, and I’ve known a lot of good people.”