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Biden fires culture war salvo with big LGBTQ celebration

AFP logo AFP 6/15/2022 AFP
Youth Activist Javier Gomez reacts as US President Joe Biden hands him a pen used to sign an executive order on gay rights © Nicholas Kamm Youth Activist Javier Gomez reacts as US President Joe Biden hands him a pen used to sign an executive order on gay rights

US President Joe Biden used a packed White House gay pride celebration Wednesday to tell young LGBTQ Americans they have his support in the growing culture wars ahead of November midterm elections.

"My message to all the young people: Just be you, you are loved," Biden said to cheers. "I want you to know that as your president, all of us on this stage have your back. We have your back."

Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and several cabinet members -- including openly gay Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg -- joined hundreds of cheering representatives from the LGBTQ community in the White House East Room to celebrate Pride Month.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month is celebrated in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots © Angela Weiss Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month is celebrated in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots

Biden signed an executive order aimed at providing federal support on a variety of rights in the LGBTQ community that the White House sees as under attack from Republican state-level leaders -- especially in Florida, where potential presidential candidate Governor Ron DeSantis has put combating "woke" culture at the heart of his agenda.

Attendees listen as US President Joe Biden celebrates Gay Pride Month © Nicholas Kamm Attendees listen as US President Joe Biden celebrates Gay Pride Month

The executive order addresses "discriminatory legislative attacks against LGBTQI+ children and families, directing key agencies to protect families and children."

It seeks to prevent so-called "conversion therapy," boost health care programs against youth suicide, support LGBTQ foster families and protect against homelessness in the community.

The high profile intervention by Biden aimed to counter an "onslaught of hateful... legislation that we're seeing in the states," a senior official told reporters.


Video: US President Biden's talk with BTS at the White House (Dailymotion)

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The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there had been more than 300 laws introduced at state level this year alone that infringe on LGBTQ people and their parents.

Among those invited to the White House were "kids and families from across the country who have been personally impacted by these discriminatory bills," the official said.

These included 18-year-old Javier Gomez, who gained renown as an activist while still at school in Florida and also joined Biden on the stage at the White House. 

Recounting the bullying he suffered in school, he said an early teacher had been key in providing "the support I needed to understand my identity."

- Florida governor in spotlight -

Biden is targeting an important layer of the Democratic voter base ahead of midterm elections where Republicans are widely seen as on track to win back control of Congress.

"We've had to stand up to their governors and state lawmakers as they advance discriminatory legislation," the official said.

For Republicans, the issue is equally potent, with activists accusing Democrats of moving too far to the left, especially on transgender rights.

The standard bearer on the right is DeSantis, seen by many as a natural heir to former president Donald Trump's populist brand in the 2024 presidential election.

In March, he signed a controversial law banning lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida elementary schools, a step some Republicans say protects young children from what they term indoctrination. Biden and other critics say it will hurt the LGBTQ community and stoke bullying.

Debate over what opponents dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" law quickly went national, even drawing in entertainment giant Disney, which criticized the measure and found itself in open conflict with DeSantis.

"In Florida, going after Mickey Mouse, for God's sake," Biden said to laughter, before turning serious as he described what he called "disgusting" homophobic attacks.

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