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Biden takes aim at ‘conversion therapy’ in Pride month executive order  

The president announced initiatives to support LGBTQ kids and families against Republican-controlled states’ anti-gay laws

WASHINGTON (CN) — “Pride is back at the White House,” President Joe Biden announced at the White House on Wednesday, addressing a crowd of hundreds of leaders and activists, as well as children who have been pitted against the legislatures of their states amid a torrent of new laws targeting LGBTQ broadly and transgender children and their parents in particular. 

Stamping out so-called “conversion therapy,” a practice that aims to change a LGBTQ person's sexual orientation or gender identity, is a primary focus of the executive order that the president signed Wednesday.

“This is the first time the federal government has launched a coordinated response against his dangerous discredited a practice,” Biden said, referring to the American Psychological Association's position that conversion therapy is not based on science and mentally harms participants.

Other points of Biden's initiative earmark funding to promote gender-affirming surgery and address discrimination faced by gay youth in the foster system. LGBTQ youth are overreppresented in foster care, and the new order will provide added protections for these populations as well as for gay and transgender parents. 

"Right now, there are young people sitting in their bedroom, doors closed, silent, scrolling through social media, staring at the ceiling, wondering if they'll ever be loved, ever marry, ever have a family or be accepted by their own families,” Biden said.

Nearly half of LGBTQ youth seriously considered committing suicide last year, and LGBTQ kids also make up 40% of all homeless youth, Biden noted. His order aims to address these statistics by expanding access to suicide-prevention resources for gay youths.

The order will also order more federal data to be collected on sexual orientation and gender identity, and allow the Education Department to create rules that better protect LGBTQ public school students. All actions will use money that has already been set aside for federal agencies, the White House said Wednesday.

While children are a special focus, the executive order additionally invites the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a new bill of rights for gay senior citizens who face high rates of poverty, discrimination and isolation.

Biden noted Wednesday that LGBTQ rights have been under attack in the last year.

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

The president was introduced at the event by Javier Gomez, an 18-year-old high school graduate who helped to organize student walkouts in Florida this spring after the state’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1557, which Democrats commonly call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill but is known to Republicans as the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, a state law stifling public school discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Gomez said he’s fighting for other gay kids in Florida, noting he got through his rocky coming-out process with the support of his openly gay former fifth grade teacher.

“I fear other students in Florida and across the country would not be able to get the same support because of hateful legislation,” Gomez said. “But my presence here is a testament. We are fighting back.”

Three days after House Bill 1557 was passed, the LGBTQ political advocacy group Equality Florida filed suit against the state, citing violations to their due process, equal protection and First Amendment rights. 

The suit brought up numerous questions it says the law failed to address, such as whether a student who is the child of two gay parents can talk about their family at school under the law; whether that student could paint a family portrait in art class; or if gay, lesbian, and transgender students would be able to talk about their own experiences.

A Biden administration official noted Wednesday before the event that the order is meant to “direct the full force of the federal government” behind families under attack by their states, “[so] they know that we’re on their side and we’re providing resources to help them.”

The Biden administration has specifically invited those who are adversely affected by 22 Republican-controlled states that have banned or restricted gender affirming care for transgender people to file civil rights claims.

While debate of the measure has been stalled, the president has also called on Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would strengthen LGBTQ protections by barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

As commander-in-chief, Biden previously ended the ban on transgender Americans serving in the military. 

First lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the second gentleman Doug Emhoff and Secretary Pete Buttigieg — the first openly gay member of a presidential cabinet — also joined the president at the event Wednesday to celebrate Pride Month.

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