The secretary also recounted reports in 1998 on the torture and murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard near Laramie, Wyo. “I learned that being LGBTQ+ was something that could cost you your job. Could cost you your life,” Buttigieg said, referencing his own tenure as a Navy intelligence officer under the policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and his subsequent campaigns for public office.
“Time and again facing that choice between service and love. Between duty and self. My whole self,” Buttigieg said. “And yet today, here I am, here you are, here we are. Standing in the East Room, in the company of the president of the United States and the first lady, wishing each other happy Pride.”
When it was Biden’s turn to take the lectern, he declared that the attendees’ “presence here this afternoon makes a simple, strong statement: Pride is back at the White House.” The president said the month of celebration stood for courage, justice and love — “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.”
At various points in his address, Biden singled out LGBTQ government officials in the audience including Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who is gay, and Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine, the first openly transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate.
“Representation matters. Recognition matters,” Biden said. “There’s something else that matters: Results. Results. I’m proud to lead the most pro-LGBTQ equality administration in U.S. history.”
The president — who earlier Friday signed a bill establishing a national memorial at the site of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting — also recalled his visit during the 2020 campaign to the historic Stonewall Inn in New York City, his late son Beau’s advocacy for transgender rights, and his 2012 comments in support of same-sex marriage.
Those statements by Biden, which came three years before the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling, were widely viewed to have prompted former President Barack Obama to also endorse same-sex marriage in a reelection year. On Friday, Biden acknowledged he had “surprised some people in the administration” with his candor on the subject.
As for his own actions as president, Biden promoted his reversal of the Trump-era ban on transgender troops serving in the military, his executive actions meant to curb anti-LGBTQ discrimination, his advocacy for LGBTQ rights through international diplomacy, and his backing of the Equality Act — which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to provide protections for LGBTQ individuals.
Among its many provisions, the Equality Act would help counteract what Biden described as a “disturbing proliferation of anti-LGBTQ bills” that are making their way through Republican-controlled state legislatures, including measures focused on transgender youth.
“These are some of the ugliest, most un-American laws I’ve seen,” Biden said, referring to bills regulating medical care, bathroom use and participation on sports teams. He added: “Let’s be clear: This is nothing more than bullying disguised as legislation.”
Although the House approved the Equality Act in February, the bill remains stalled before the Senate. Biden demanded its final passage on Friday and quoted the legendary, gay California politician Harvey Milk as he made his case. “It takes no compromise to give people their rights,” the president said.