By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday hosted the largest Pride celebration in White House history on Saturday, calling for new measures to protect the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people amid a spate of what he called “terrifying” attacks and legislation.
Biden, a Democrat, urged Congress to pass the “Equality Act” which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity for protection alongside race, religion, sex and national origin, and ban assault weapons.
Thousands of guests picnicked on the South Lawn including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the first openly LGBTQ person to hold a Cabinet position, and Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Admiral Rachel Levine, the first openly transgender person to be confirmed by the Senate.
Biden said the guests also included survivors of deadly shootings at the LGTBQ Club Q nightclub in Colorado Springs last November and Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in 2016.
The attacks and a flurry of bills in Republican-led states targeting transgender youth, banning teachers of younger children from discussing gender or sexuality and proposed or passed laws restricting drag performances have created a threatening environment for LGTBQ people, Biden said.
“When families across the country face excruciating decisions to relocate to a different state to protect their child from dangerous ant-LGTBQ laws, we have to act. We need to push back against the hundreds of callous and cynical bills introduced in states targeting transgender children, terrifying families and criminalizing doctors and nurses,” he said.
“These bills and laws attack the most basic values and freedoms we have as Americans,” he said, drawing cheers and applause from the crowd, where many wore rainbow colors, shorts and sundresses, and some came dressed in drag.
Many chanted “four more years” as he neared the end of his remarks.
First lady Jill Biden said the celebration was meant to “find joy” and “celebrate the beauty and resilience” of the LGBTQ community in face of growing threats to their lives and rights.
“Today, we say loud and clear – that you belong, that you are beautiful, that you are loved,” she said. “Let it remind you that you don’t have to face those battles alone. You are never alone.”
The celebration was delayed from Thursday due to smoke from Canadian wildfires.
Biden this week announced new measures intended to curb book bans and hate crimes, help transgender youth access better care and increased federal coordination to “better protect Pride celebrations, marches, community centers, healthcare providers and small businesses.
Florida has been at the forefront of restrictions aimed at the LGBTQ community under Governor Ron DeSantis, who says the measures protect children, and recently entered the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination to challenge Biden.
As president, Biden has overturned a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, issued a new order to stop conversion therapy and signed the Respect for Marriage Act, which federally recognizes same-sex marriages, into law.
American support for same-sex marriage has doubled since the late 1990s to more than 70%, Gallup polls show, and the percentage of people who identify as LGBTQ has doubled in the past decade to over 7%.
More than 70 bills considered anti-LGBTQ by the Human Rights Campaign were passed in statehouses this legislative session, double last year’s previous record, and over 500 were introduced.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; additional reporting by Jeff Mason, editing by Deepa Babington)