Karine Jean-Pierre, First Out Black Queer White House Press Secretary, on Why Representation Matters

The Biden-Harris Administration 'will never stop fighting to end discrimination,' she says

Last year, I took a question in the briefing room from a young Black girl who was visiting the White House for “Take Your Child to Work Day.” I could tell she was nervous, but she quickly composed herself, asked her question (what’s the most difficult part about my job?), and told me that she aspired to be in my shoes one day.

As the first Black and openly queer person to hold the position of White House press secretary, this moment reinforced for me that representation matters. It matters to our kids, and makes our nation stronger. When I was young, I never dreamed I would be speaking on behalf of the president of the United States, let alone a president and vice president who encourage me to show up and serve every day as my full, authentic self.

I try to honor the people that came before me and always remember I didn’t get here on my own. When it was my turn to continue the tradition of naming a new lectern in the Press Briefing Room, I took the opportunity to honor the legacies of Alice Dunnigan and Ethel Payne, the first two Black women to join the White House press corps. The candidness with which they shared the reality of being Black women reporters in the ‘40s and ‘50s gives me the courage to be open about my own journey.

I was fortunate to grow up in New York City, one of the most diverse places in the world, but even that environment couldn’t shield me from feeling alone and sometimes invisible. My family emigrated from Haiti and brought with them the values they knew. Simply put, queer identities weren’t something to be acknowledged in any form at home, much less celebrated.

But in time, my family came to the same realization that other families come to at dinner tables across America — who you love doesn’t change who you are, what your passions are, or the mark you work to make on the world.

That is the American Dream that LGBTQI+ Americans should have the freedom to pursue. We have a long way to go but the work is worth it. Those behind us are depending on it.

Now more than ever, our community faces the scary reality with each new bang of a gavel or stroke of a pen that the hard-won rights we have secured in recent years remain under relentless attack. A record number of anti-LGBTQI+ bills — over 600 in 2023 alone — were filed in statehouses across the country. For 2024, that record was on track to be shattered before the end of Pride Month. Across the nation, we are seeing a spike in book bans that disproportionately remove books about LGBTQI+ communities and communities of color. It’s wrong.

That’s why we must continue to speak up and call out attacks on our fundamental freedoms. The freedom to be who you are and love who you love. The freedom to access medical treatment and gender-affirming care. And the freedom to show up in all spaces regardless of how you identify.

For me, that freedom set me on the path to speak up from the most powerful lectern in the world — and have the privilege of doing it for a president that evolved just like my family did, setting an example for the rest of America in the process.

In a 2012 appearance on “Meet the Press,” then-Vice President Biden was asked about his well-documented opposition to same-sex marriage. But this time, something had changed. In an ever-changing news cycle, it was a clear indicator of progress that made the nation stop and listen.

“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that [same-sex couples] are entitled to the same exact rights…And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that,” Biden said.

The entire exchange with anchor David Gregory took just three minutes, but the matter-of-fact way Joe Biden validated my existence and those of countless other queer Americans moves me to this day. 

Now as president, he has transformed the sentiment shared that day into structural change, driving his administration to advance equality for our community and protect civil rights here at home. Thanks to his leadership, we are combating dangerous and cruel practices of so-called “conversion therapy,” implementing a new national strategy to end the HIV epidemic, and ending the disgraceful practice of banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

But I know that despite these strides, many in my community across the country, LGBTQI+ youth especially, unfortunately still feel the same loneliness and invisibility I once did. For those who are struggling, the president and his administration launched the 988 line to help—and we have a line dedicated to serving LGBTQI+ young people that can be reached by dialing 988 and pressing 3. Please know that you are loved exactly as you are and that we will always have your back.

The Biden-Harris administration will never stop fighting to end discrimination within our borders and around the globe, to stand against the avalanche of unjust state laws that aim to legalize hate, and to guarantee everyone the fundamental right and freedom to be who they are.

Karine Jean-Pierre is the Assistant to the President and White House Press Secretary.

Topics: Opinions

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