I Was Invited to the White House for Pride. Here's Everything I Saw and Everyone I Spoke With.

Exclusive insights from our Editorial Director on being at the President's home for Pride

Chris Azzopardi

One sentiment shared among some LGBTQ+ people at the White House on June 26 for its Pride picnic: My younger self wouldn’t believe I’d one day be here. To include Pride Source and Between The Lines, an invitation that came directly from the White House in early June, was more than a huge honor for our regional publication — it was an affirmation of our work in LGBTQ+ media, directly from the highest level of government. We couldn’t believe we were here. And that message was made even more resoundingly clear when myself and our managing editor, Sarah Bricker Hunt, arrived enthusiastically to the White House in the late afternoon on June 26. There, I spoke to many people who never imagined as a kid they’d feel this kind of official support from a presidential administration. I was one of them. 

First, we filed in through the security checkpoint at the northwest gate of the White House across from Lafayette Square to receive our encoded badge. Then we entered. To be standing on the White House grounds was dreamlike. Even now as I write this, to think about how I was interviewing notable LGBTQ+ attendees about being at the White House for Pride on what is famously known as Pebble Beach, the north grounds of the White House where television news organizations have historically broadcast their reports, doesn’t quite feel real. Nor did sitting in the White House Press Briefing Room, where presidents throughout many decades have spoken to the country through our TVs about, among many human rights issues, advancing LGBTQ+ rights. When I walked up to the podium, I recalled how, in 2021, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre made history as the first Black lesbian to lead a White House press briefing behind that mic.

Pride Source Editorial Director Chris Azzopardi interviews former "Queer Eye" star Bobby Berk at Pebble Beach at the White House.

Just outside that symbolic room is where “Queer Eye” star and interior designer Bobby Berk walked up to our small group of press members. Berk told the Washington Blade that he had spoken with the Biden-Harris 2024 team the day before about “going on the road, going on the campaign trail, and maybe speaking” at the Democratic National Convention.

At Pebble Beach, when Berk approached me, his face was aglow as he spoke about the significance of being at the White House for Pride as an out gay person. “I think it's very important to be here because it's showing the world, showing America, that this administration really does care about everyone and accepts everyone, which is what America's about, which is what America was founded upon. So it's amazing.”

This year, he added, “Pride has been more about finding those people that support you,” a sentiment echoed by First Lady Jill Biden, the celebration’s featured speaker, when she welcomed hundreds of LGBTQ+ people to her and President Biden’s iconic South Lawn, including myself: “Looking out at all of you, I see America,” she said, beaming. “And it’s an honor to welcome you to our home.” (Though we were told initially that senior administration officials would be speaking to us at Pebble Beach, that did not materialize, and President Biden, who was preparing for the next day’s debate at Camp David, was absent.) 

After interviewing reception participants, I entered the sprawling lawn (I worked up a sweat just walking to the bathroom!) through the actual White House — its halls, its doors. This was not a part of the original plan, but I think I have Deborah Cox, who performed after the First Lady gave her remarks, to thank. She unknowingly helped make this happen by arriving later than expected. Instead of exiting and reentering in the line forming outside the South Lawn, we were led by Weston Weber, a queer communications fellow instrumental in making us a part of this event, through the historic halls of the White House. To merely step through that house knowing those colonial walls I was passing by had seen so much history was almost mystical, like Dorothy being swept into Oz. Then, to be taking this walk in the White House as a gay person, felt almost defiant. And it would’ve been in 2020; it could be in 2025. That walk, I realized as I soaked up the moment and walked the White House floor with an awareness of what the next four years could be like, may not even happen. 

Even though I was fortunate to have my parents’ support after coming out at 18 while growing up in the Michigan suburbs, my experience at the White House mirrored, in some ways, that of Berk’s as described to The Advocate — it felt like the ultimate affirmation. “To be a little gay kid from Missouri who at one point was homeless when he was 15 because he came out and his family didn’t accept him, to now be here at the White House, not only being here at the White House but being invited by an administration who loves and supports us and not just us, but everyone,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”

Chasten Buttigieg, Chris Azzopardi and Pete Buttigieg at the White House's Pride picnic.

My own out-of-body excitement took me to new uplifting heights as I bounced around the lawn wondering, randomly, what my 8th grade government teacher might think of me being here. I couldn’t snap photos of White House Pridegoers fast enough: same-sex parents playing yard games with their children, lines of people at the many refreshments tables enjoying hot dogs (all beef) and chips, and others trying to preserve their energy in the 98-degree heat, sprawled out on blankets savoring every last moment of what would be a forever memory. The First Lady encouraged doing cartwheels on her lawn during her remarks, and even if I didn’t spot anyone doing any sideways handsprings, we were all doing metaphorical flips. There was at least some fancy movement going on while Deborah Cox made the community proud by performing for the first time ever at the White House. 

“I'm honored,” she told me earlier in the day at Pebble Beach. “My connection and my relationship with the LGBTQ+ community goes deep. It's just been wonderful to be an ally, to be a support.” 

Earlier in the day, I messaged my mom the livestream link. She left me this message after watching the entire event back in Michigan: “I watched the whole Pride celebration. I did look for you but couldn't find you. There were quite a few people on that lawn, but you’re probably not answering the phone because you're busy doing a cartwheel. Anyways, such a special time and so proud of you and love you and and wish I could've been there, but I'm here virtually with you, honey."

It’s possible that when she called I was off devouring hot dogs, which after I had my second, I was ready for an ice cream bar (I almost started with one, but didn’t want to spoil my White House hot dog). So was everyone else. Or so I thought! It wasn’t a Dreamsicle everyone was crowding around for — it was Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and husband Chasten, a children’s book author and the advisor, spokesperson and social media campaigner to Pete during his 2020 (and maybe future) presidential campaign. Tucked to the sideline, they were not eating Dreamsicles but meeting and greeting Pridegoers, engaging in brief conversation and posing for photos taken by someone from their team. The Buttigiegs live in Traverse City with their twins Penelope and Joseph, and during our encounter, when I mentioned my role at Pride Source, they thanked me for the work our publication does for Michigan. 

High-ranking LGBTQ+ Michiganders were well-represented at the White House. I ran into Attorney General Dana Nessel and her wife, Plymouth City Commissioner Alanna Maguire, as well as Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter, Secretary of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and Hazel Park City Councilmember Luke Londo and Erin Quetell, Oakland County’s Chief Environmental Sustainability Officer. Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott and Motor City Pride Chairperson Dave Wait also attended. National luminaries, as reported by The Advocate, included Jean-Pierre, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, California U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, LGBTQ+ trailblazer Jim Obergefell, Human Rights Campaign president Kelley Robinson, rapper Da Brat and former Democratic Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims.

Billy Porter takes a selfie with an admirer. Photo: Chris Azzopardi

It was a nice surprise to see “Pose” Emmy winner and vocalist Billy Porter hanging out right in front of the Pride Source blanket with a small group of friends and a growing number of queer admirers who recognized him. He was organizing his own meeting line, prioritizing his hellos on a first-come-first-serve basis and taking photos in sets: first was “smile,” second was “serve.” When I asked him how being there felt as we geared up to a precarious election that would likely come down to Donald Trump and President Biden, he was plain-spoken, expressing the importance of learning from history and the need to remember the struggles and victories of the past while also emphasizing the significance of voting and democracy.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants who already did this,” he told me. “What's the fear about? Love always wins. We've been in a progressive circle for 60 years. We forgot the fight. Go back. They stopped teaching history in public schools on purpose. Nobody remembers. Nobody remembers. Just Google the fucking civil rights movement. Bitch, look at some shit. We did this already. None of it is new. Show up and show out, the end. And vote. Why are we still talking about that even? Why are we still talking about voting? That's a no-brainer to me. The choice is democracy or not. That's right, period. Thank you.”

In regards to what this particular Pride celebration at the White House represented just months before the election, he said, “It's community. It's a call to action. It's a reminder of our power. Fear not, the change has already happened. This is not the time to be scared or terrified. Those words need to be stricken from the lexicon. It's time to fight. We did this already.” 

To process the uncertainty, he told me he leans on the wise words of civil rights icon John Lewis: “I just put one foot in front of the other and refuse to give up like John Lewis told me.”

Editorial Director Chris Azzopardi at the White House.

As I write this, I’m still processing my own complicated feelings about the country’s future and seeing that debate in my D.C. hotel (you know the one) while being at the White House just 24 hours beforehand; what I can say right now is that there are big emotions about what simply being there symbolizes to me as a gay person and journalist, which is a profound shift in societal recognition, equality and acceptance. For a gay person, such an invitation represents a milestone in my personal journey and a significant moment in the broader struggle for LGBTQ+ rights. The White House is not just any venue; it is the residence and office of the President of the United States, a symbol of the nation itself. Being in attendance that day among my community sends a powerful message of inclusion and equality, but the First Lady also sent that message directly, addressing the most vulnerable members of our community — the transgender population — who need our steadfast support and solidarity. “I hope all of you feel that freedom and love on the South Lawn today,” she said in her remarks, “because your home is here too.”

Back in Michigan, going through the photos I took that you see on this page, I found myself reflecting on the decades-long journey that brought me here, to my role as the Editorial Director of this LGBTQ+ publication. From grassroots activism to this national recognition, the path to this moment has been paved with courage and perseverance; I had to survive my agonizing teen years to get here. Being at the White House, witnessing history in the making, reaffirms my commitment to amplifying LGBTQ+ voices and advancing our collective cause and the promise of working toward a future where every individual can live authentically and proudly. 

A future in which we can always, in 2025 and beyond, call the White House “home."


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