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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Biden signs measure to protect LGBTQ rights, citing ‘hateful attacks’

First lady Jill Biden makes remarks as President Joe Biden and activist Javier Gomez look on during an event to celebrate Pride Month in the White House in Washington on June 15, 2022.

By Michael D. Shear

President Joe Biden signed an executive order earlier this week aimed at protecting LGBTQ people from a cascade of legislation in conservative states that increasingly targets the rights of gays, lesbians, transgender youth and others.

The order is designed to counter efforts by Republican politicians like Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has pushed through a measure — called by some the “Don’t Say Gay” law — banning teachers from providing instruction regarding gender identity or sexual orientation.

Other laws passed in conservative states include prohibitions on transgender girls competing in high school sports and efforts to ban the provision of gender-affirming care. White House officials have called the new laws “un-American” and said they are designed to discriminate against families and children based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Biden’s executive order takes direct aim at so-called conversion therapy, a discredited practice in which doctors falsely claim to be able to adjust a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation with treatment.

In a ceremony in the East Room packed with LGBTQ supporters, Biden said he was moved to take action to prevent what he called “hateful attacks” by Republican governors and legislatures around the country.

“My order will use the full force of the federal government to prevent inhumane practices of conversion therapy,” Biden said, to loud applause from his supporters. “This is the first time the federal government is leading a coordinated response against this dangerous discredited” practice.

In the executive order, the president directs the secretary of Health and Human Services and the secretary of State to lead an effort to limit exposure to the procedure on the part of American youth, and endeavor to end it altogether internationally. The order would also direct the Federal Trade Commission to determine whether conversion therapy amounts to a deceptive act that should merit warnings to consumers from the agency.

The order will also seek to expand access to suicide prevention and mental health resources for LGBTQ people, White House officials said.

For Biden, the executive order is another step toward fulfilling promises he made to the LGBTQ community during his presidential campaign in 2020.

At the time, he vowed to make his administration “look like America” by appointing members of the LGBTQ community to his staff and Cabinet. He made good on that promise by choosing Pete Buttigieg, an openly gay man, as secretary of transportation and tapping Karine Jean-Pierre to be the first openly gay, Black woman to be his press secretary.

But Biden also vowed to take specific actions as president to promote equality. On his first day in office, he signed an executive order directing federal agencies to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity when it comes to health care, education, housing, employment and more.

The president’s announcement of a new executive order comes as the White House celebrates Pride Month. In his remarks Wednesday, Biden repeated what he said a year ago during a similar event: “Pride is back at the White House.”

But White House officials said the decision to issue the executive order was also motivated by the increasing number of anti-LGBTQ laws being passed by Republican state legislatures and signed into law by Republican governors.

Biden called it the “the ultra-MAGA agenda attacking families and our freedoms,” making reference to the Make America Great Again slogan that former President Donald Trump popularized during his first run for office in 2016.

In his remarks, Biden lamented the proliferation of attempts to limit or take away the rights of LGBTQ people. He said that there was still a need to fight back against anti-LGBTQ sentiment, despite the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015.

“No one knows better than people in this room. We have a lot more work to do. A lot more to do,” he said. He noted that there are “300 discriminatory bills introduced in states across this country — in Texas, knocking on front doors to harass, investigate parents who are raising transgender children. In Florida, going after Mickey Mouse, for God’s sake.”

The crowd laughed at the president’s Disney reference. But Biden closed his remarks with a serious warning about the ideological divide in the country and the political fight that he said remains in the years ahead.

“We’re in a battle for the very soul of this nation, he said. “And that’s not hyperbole. We’re in a battle for the soul of the nation. Well, I look around this room here, and all you here today, it’s a battle I know we will win.”

He pounded his fist on the lectern: “We will win.”

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