President Biden burnished his gay-rights record during Pride Month by designating the site of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando as a national memorial Friday and naming a New York-based expert on human rights violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons as a special State Department envoy.
Mr. Biden reflected on the nearly 50 people who were lost in the 2016 shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub, and the awful “waiting” that family members had to suffer in the aftermath of the tragedy, drawing a comparison to the search for survivors in this week’s condominium collapse in Surfside, Florida.
“May we never have to sign — no president [should] have to sign — another monument like this [into law],” he said at the White House.
The president named Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, as his special envoy, saying her role will be “critical to ensuring that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world.”
“At a time when the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons are increasingly threatened in all regions of the world, the special envoy will bring together like-minded governments, civil society organizations, corporations and international organizations to uphold dignity and equality for all,” Mr. Biden said, using an acronym that includes “intersex” and “queer” or “questioning.”
Mr. Biden used the East Room speech to push the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in areas such as employment and housing. He also touted symbolic measures, like flying pride flags at U.S. embassies and lighting up the White House in rainbow colors.
Mr. Biden also criticized state bills around the country that bar transgender youth from receiving certain treatments or joining sports teams of their choice.
“This is nothing more than bullying disguised as legislation,” Mr. Biden said.
GOP leaders say the measures are necessary to protect girls’ sports from unfair competition from athletes who are biologically male.
Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine, who is transgender, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who is openly gay, attended the ceremony.
Mr. Buttigieg recognized his husband, Chasten, drawing cheers from members of the LGBT community assembled in the East Room.
“Us even being here proves how much change is possible in America,” Mr. Buttigieg said.
The president boasted about his efforts on behalf of the LGBT community throughout the speech. He signed an executive order on the first day of his presidency to combat anti-gay discrimination and rescinded President Trump’s ban on openly transgender members serving in the military.
The Trump administration rescinded Obama-era regulations that said laws barring health care discrimination on the basis of sex should include gender identity. Trump officials rewrote the regulations, saying “when Congress prohibited sex discrimination, it did so according to the plain meaning of the term.”
However, Mr. Trump made history by appointing the first openly gay Cabinet member — Richard Grenell, as director of national intelligence — although he served in an acting capacity for about three months.