Joe Biden unveiled new initiatives on Thursday to protect LGBTQ+ communities but hastily postponed a big Pride Month celebration on the White House lawn with thousands of guests from around the country because of poor air quality from the Canadian wildfires.
The event, which will now be held on Saturday, was intended to be a high-profile show of support at a time when members of the LGBTQ+ community feel under attack like never before and the White House has little recourse to beat back a flood of state-level legislation against them.
The Biden administration announced initiatives designed to protect LGBTQ+ communities from attack, help young people with mental health issues and homelessness, and counter book bans, though the effects may be limited. Biden was to discuss them at the event, which the White House had said would be the largest Pride Month celebration ever held there.
Thousands of guests had been invited from around the country for an evening filled with food, games and other activities on the South Lawn. Queen HD the DJ was handling the music, and singer Betty Who was on tap to perform.
But the nation’s capital by late morning on Thursday was under a “code purple” air quality alert, the fifth-highest level on the six-level US air quality index, with authorities recommending that everyone limit their exposure to the hazardous smoke wafting south from Canada. District of Columbia schools canceled all outdoor activities for a second day, and the National Zoo also closed.
The moves comes as the US’s largest community LGBTQ+ advocacy organization has declared a state of emergency in America when it comes to civil rights. The Human Rights Campaign has issued the statement due to what it said was “an unprecedented and dangerous spike in anti-LGBTQ+ legislative assaults sweeping state houses this year”.
The White House was closely monitoring air quality due to hazardous smoke from Canadian wildfires to determine whether to proceed with plans for a Thursday night picnic featuring food, games, face painting and photos.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the first openly gay White House press secretary, said Biden, Vice-President Kamala Harris and their spouses were strong supporters of the LGBTQ+ community and think that having a celebration is an important way to “lift up” their accomplishments and contributions.
She said LGBTQ+ people needed to know that Biden “has their back” and “will continue to fight for them. And that’s the message that we want to make sure that gets out there.”
Biden was announcing that the Department of Homeland Security, working with the justice and health and human services departments, will partner with LGBTQ+ community organizations to provide safety resources and training to help thwart violent attacks.
Separately, HHS and the Department of Housing and Urban Development will provide resources to help LGBTQ+ young people with mental health needs, support in foster care and homelessness.
Hundreds of bills have been proposed restricting the rights of transgender people, including limiting their access to certain forms of healthcare, and LGBTQ+ advocates say they have seen a record number of such measures in statehouses.
After the supreme court last year overturned a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, Biden signed legislation to protect marriage equality. He continues to urge Congress to send him the Equality Act, which would add civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ individuals to federal law.
Polls show that public support for the rights of people who are gay and lesbian has expanded dramatically over the last two decades, with about seven in 10 US adults in polling by Gallup saying that marriages between same-sex adults should be legally valid and that gay and lesbian relationships are morally acceptable.
But attitudes toward transgender people are complex: in polls conducted in 2022 by KFF and the Washington Post and by the Pew Research Center, majorities said they support laws prohibiting discrimination against transgender people in areas such as housing, jobs and schools.
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