President Joe Biden said he’s marking this year’s Pride month celebration with more than rainbows and decorations. On Wednesday, he signed an executive order aimed at combating bills opposed by LGBTQI+ communities that have been introduced in state legislatures across the country.
The administration says the new order takes steps to advance equality and address discrimination, including preventing so-called conversion therapy that seeks to change the sexual or gender identities of LGBTQI+ youth.
“Today, I’m about to sign an executive order that directs key federal agencies to protect our communities from those hateful attacks and advance equality for families,” said Biden. “My order will use the full force of the federal government to prevent inhumane practices of conversion therapy. This is the first time the federal government is aiming a coordinated response against this dangerous, discredited practice.”
June is the month in the United States when LGBTQI+ communities celebrate their equality and increased visibility. Rainbows are seen as a symbol of the wide spectrum of human sexuality and gender identity.
But first lady Jill Biden said that several conservative states have recently pushed laws that serve to marginalize sexual minorities.
“We know that in places across the country like Florida, Texas or Alabama, rights are under attack,” she said. “And we know that in small towns and big cities, prejudice and discrimination still lurk.”
Dwayne Kwaysee Wright, an assistant professor focusing on diversity at The George Washington University, said Biden’s order is a step against the recent bills targeting LGBTQI+ rights from Republican state legislatures nationwide.
In Florida, legislation to go into effect July 1 would prohibit classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity for children in kindergarten through third grade. And Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently directed family services to investigate as child abuse parents who provide gender-affirming care for their children.
“There are policies that say ‘don’t say gay’ in Florida,’” he said. “There are policies that say if you’re raising a transgender kid in Texas, we’re going to investigate you. I think the administration sees this, and they’re going to do all they can hopefully to try to prevent, mitigate and roll back this attack on LGBT citizens here.”
The LGBTQI+ community also faces growing threats from far-right extremist groups. On Saturday, 31 members of a white supremacist group called the Patriot Front were arrested in Idaho and charged with conspiracy to riot — a misdemeanor — for allegedly planning to disrupt a Pride event.
Amid these threats, the administration has been keen to underscore a message of inclusivity.
“We work around the globe to protect LGBTQI+ persons from violence and abuse, criminalization, discrimination and stigma and empower local LGBTQI+ movements and persons,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, the first Black woman and openly gay person to serve as White House press secretary. “We do this through bilateral and multilateral channels.”
She did not say whether Biden will deliver that message when he meets with Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia next month. Kingdom officials recently seized rainbow-colored toys and clothing from shops in the capital, Riyadh, as part of a crackdown on homosexuality.
But on Wednesday, the message from the White House was clear. Hundreds of guests crowded into the rainbow-bedecked White House to see Javier Gomez, an 18-year-old Floridian and recent high school graduate, introduce the president.
Gomez helped organize the statewide student walkouts over the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
On Wednesday, he stood beside the Bidens.
“My presence here is a testament that we are fighting back,” said Gomez, who plans to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in the fall. “Because our lives are glorious, beautiful and worthy. We deserve respect and love. And until we have that, we will fight. We will continue to fight, to fight for liberation.”
Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.