WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden on Friday designated Pulse, a gay nightclub in Florida, as a national memorial to honor the site where 49 people were killed in a mass shooting five years ago.
On June 12, 2016, a gunman stormed the Orlando Latin nightclub with an AR-15-style assault rifle and pistol, carrying out the deadliest attack on LGBTQ Americans, and the second deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States, save only for the Las Vegas shooting in 2017.
“May no president have to sign another monument like this,” Biden said as survivors of the shooting and the victims’ families gathered around to watch him sign the memorial bill into law.
The legislation was passed by the Senate earlier this month, after the House passed its own version in May.
“Our presence here this afternoon makes a simple strong statement: Pride is back at the White House,” Biden said in remarks after the ceremony.
During his remarks, Biden announced the designation of Jessica Stern, head of the New York human rights group OutRight Action International, as a special envoy to advance the rights of LGBTQ people around the globe.
Biden also outlined several actions his administration has taken to advance equality for LGBTQ people, including recognizing Pride Month in a June 1 proclamation, signing an executive order that combats sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination on his first day in office, and reversing a Trump-era ban that prohibited transgender people from serving in the military.
“Not that long ago, well within the lifetimes of many in this room, being outed could be disqualifying for public service,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay man to serve in the cabinet, who joined Biden in his remarks. “And yet today here I am, here you are, here we are, standing in the East Room in the company of the president of the United States and the first lady wishing each other ‘Happy Pride.’”
Buttigieg spoke to the discrimination and danger that LGBTQ people face around the world and in our own country.
“Rates of violence, especially against Black trans women, are shocking and disproportionate," Buttigieg said. “And researchers found that last year, two in five LGBTQ youths seriously considered suicide. There have been great leaps forward in this country but there are reminders everywhere of what it looks like to move backward.”
Buttigieg and Biden were joined by Ashton Mota, a transgender Black Latino 16-year-old boy.
“The truth is that there are hundreds of thousands of transgender and nonbinary young people like me who are thriving in our country,” said Mota said. “But today in America, the LGBTQ community...continues to face discrimination, homelessness, and hate. Trans teenagers and kids like me wake up to headline after headline, bill after bill, preventing us from joining a sports team, receiving health care, or even just using the bathroom.”
Biden and Mota spoke of the need to pass the Equality Act, a landmark LGBTQ rights bill that was passed by the House in February but has stalled in the Senate.
“Our work is unfinished. When a same-sex couple can be married in the morning but denied a lease in the afternoon for being gay, something’s still wrong,” Biden said.
More than half of all states lack protections prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, and a slew of anti-LGBTQ measures have been introduced in 23 states around the country this year — including a record number of measures targeting transgender Americans.
“These are some of the ugliest, most un-American laws I’ve seen, and I’ve been here a while,” Biden said.
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