Washington (AFP) – US President Joe Biden hosts a major White House reception Wednesday in honor of LGBTQ rights, striking a counter blow in the heating culture wars ahead of November midterm elections.
Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and several cabinet members — including openly gay Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg — were to join hundreds of representatives from the LGBTQ community in the White House East Room to celebrate Pride Month.
Just ahead of the bash, Biden signed an executive order aimed at providing federal support on a variety of rights in the LGBTQ community that the White House sees as under attack from Republican state-level leaders — especially in Florida, where potential presidential candidate Governor Ron DeSantis has put combating “woke” culture at the heart of his agenda.
The executive order addresses “discriminatory legislative attacks against LGBTQI+ children and families, directing key agencies to protect families and children.”
It seeks to prevent so-called “conversion therapy,” boost health care programs against youth suicide, support LGBTQ foster families and protect against homelessness in the community.
The high profile intervention by Biden aims to counter an “onslaught of hateful… legislation that we’re seeing in the states,” a senior official told reporters.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there had been more than 300 laws introduced at state level this year alone that infringe on LGBTQ people and their parents.
Among those invited to the White House were “kids and families from across the country who have been personally impacted by these discriminatory bills,” the official said. These included 18-year-old Javier Gomez, who gained renown as an activist while still at school in Florida.
“We’ve had to stand up to their governors and state lawmakers as they advance discriminatory legislation,” the official said.
“These attendees represent the best of America. They are diverse, passionate advocates who are fighting to ensure that the promise of freedom and equality is made real for all you can expect the president today to celebrate the historic progress of his administration.”
Biden is targeting an important layer of the Democratic voter base ahead of midterm elections where Republicans are widely seen as on track to win back control of Congress.
For Republicans, the issue is equally potent, with activists accusing Democrats of moving too far to the left, especially on transgender rights.
The standard bearer on the right is DeSantis, seen by many as a natural heir to former president Donald Trump’s populist brand in the 2024 presidential election.
In March, he signed a controversial law banning lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida elementary schools, a step some Republicans say protects young children from what they term indoctrination. Biden and other critics say it will hurt the LGBTQ community and stoke bullying.
Debate over what opponents dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law quickly went national, even drawing in entertainment giant Disney, which criticized the measure and found itself in open conflict with DeSantis.