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First Openly Gay Black Woman Delivers White House Briefing

White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during a press briefing at the White House, May 26, 2021.

Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre briefed reporters at the White House Wednesday, only the second Black woman to do so and the first openly gay one.

"It's a real honor to be standing here today," said Jean-Pierre from the White House podium, adding that she appreciates "the historic nature" of the occasion.

"Being behind this podium, being in this room, being in this building, is not about one person, it's about what we do on behalf of the American people," she added.

Jean-Pierre has briefed reporters in press gaggles aboard Air Force One when accompanying President Joe Biden on his travels, but this is the first time she took the podium at the James F. Brady briefing room.

The first African American woman to do so was Judy Smith, deputy press secretary under then-President George H.W. Bush in 1991. Smith was the inspiration for Olivia Pope, a character on the popular television political drama series Scandal, played by actress Kerry Washington.

"Karine is not only making history today as only the second African American woman to do a briefing from the White House podium, but the world is going to get a chance to see her talent, her intelligence and her command of a range of issues," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told VOA in an email a few hours before Jean-Pierre took the podium. "She has been an incredible partner in the press office to date and looking forward to seeing her shine today."

Psaki said in a recent interview she may resign next year to focus on her family. Jean-Pierre is seen as a strong contender to take her place.

Daughter of Haitian immigrants

Born in Martinique, a Caribbean Island in the Lesser Antilles, to Haitian immigrant parents, Jean-Pierre moved to New York with her family at a young age. She graduated from the New York Institute of Technology and received her Master of Public Administration at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.

A young Karine Jean-Pierre celebrates with her parents in this undated photo from Facebook.
A young Karine Jean-Pierre celebrates with her parents in this undated photo from Facebook.

Jean-Pierre, 43, has been principal deputy press secretary since January 2021 and is the first LGBTQ Black woman to hold a White House press briefing. Her partner is American television journalist Suzanne Malveaux. The couple has a young daughter.

Prior to working in Democratic administrations, Jean-Pierre was a national spokesperson for the liberal group She was regional political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs under former President Barack Obama. She served in the Biden presidential campaign as senior adviser and as chief of staff to Kamala Harris after she was tapped to be Biden's running mate.

She is one of several women of color holding senior positions in the all-female White House communications team, including Symone Sanders and Pili Tobar. Tobar is a Latina lesbian.

President Joe Biden has pledged to staff his White House and administration with people that reflect the United States' diversity. "I promise you, you'll see the most diverse Cabinet representative of all folks, Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ, across the board," Biden said in December 2020 during the transition.

While Biden has been criticized for not appointing enough Latinos and Asian Americans in high-level positions, his cabinet is more gender balanced and racially diverse than his predecessors. Almost half are women, and half identify as Black, Latino, Asian American, Native American, or multiracial.

"Clearly, the president believes in representation matters," Jean-Pierre said to reporters Wednesday. "And I appreciate him giving me this opportunity."