President Joe Biden on Saturday hosted what he described as the largest-ever White House event celebrating members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, during a month dedicated to celebrating gay pride.
This year’s event comes amid a flurry of laws passed in U.S. states and around the world that critics say hamper the rights of LGBTQ+ citizens.
At this year’s colourful event, Biden stressed his administration’s support for the community.
“You are loved,” he said to the crowd gathered on the South Lawn of the White House. “You are heard, you are understood and you belong. And as I made clear, including in my State of the Union address, your president, my entire administration has your back. We see you — you are made the image of God deserving of dignity, respect and support.”
Not all Americans agree or think these conversations should be held in public. Earlier this month, protesters in Glendale, California, gathered to air their opposition to teaching LGBTQ+ issues in public schools. The crowd of several hundred shouted at each other and at one point even exchanged punches.
Presidential challenger and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed several bills concerning LGBTQ+ rights, including the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which Biden described as “hateful.”
DeSantis says he is protecting conservative values.
"But we will, as president, lean in against woke ideology and against the sexualization of children,” he told a FOX News journalist on air.
The East African nation of Uganda recently passed the so-called “kill the gays” law, prompting some Ugandans to flee for safety to neighboring Kenya. Biden has described the law as “wrong” and “shameful.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told VOA that the trend of using the law to restrict gay rights makes this year’s celebration even more important.
“Let's not forget what we're seeing across the country from statehouses: more than 600 pieces of legislation, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation,” she said. “A few hundred of those are against transgender youth. And so we have not seen that type of ‘anti’ sentiment, anti — against this community in decades.
“And so we believe that not only does this community need to be celebrated and continue to be celebrated,” she added.
The faith community has mixed views on gay rights and at times members of the same religious congregation will have opposing views on the issue.
Pope Francis this year said homosexuality is not a crime, but that any sexual act outside of marriage is a sin. The Catholic Church does not bless same-sex unions.
There are some churches that minister specifically to the LGBTQ+ community.
“You have to take a look at the overall message of the Bible, which is affirming of the dignity and the humanity of every human being made in the image of God,” said the Rev. Lea Brown, who ministers in North Carolina at Metropolitan Community Church, a protestant congregation with outreach to the LGBTQ+ community. “That is the context — and a God that stands for love, a God that stands for social justice, a God that stands for an end to poverty and economic exploitation of human beings.”
The White House declared June as Pride Month in 1999. And this Pride Month, across the U.S. members of the LGBTQ+ community say they’re undeterred.
“We're not going back into the closet, it's not going to happen,” Brown said. “And so, absolutely, we're going to be out there. We're going to be voting. We're going to be marching and hopefully, I really hope sharing our stories, showing the truth about our lives.”