By Sam Fossum and Kaanita Iyer, CNN
Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed LGBTQ Americans to the White House on Saturday for a picnic and concert to commemorate Pride Month.
“You are loved. You are heard. You are understood. And you belong,” Biden said in his remarks on the South Lawn to a cheering crowd.
The president praised the “extraordinary” courage of LGBTQ Americans, while acknowledging the discrimination and violence the community faces.
As Biden looks to secure another term in office, he reassured the crowd – who at one point chanted “four more years” – that LGBTQ rights were a “top priority” both at home and abroad. He touted a number of steps taken by his administration to protect civil rights and tied stricter protections against gun violence to protecting the LGBTQ community.
But Biden admitted, “For all the progress we’ve made, we know challenges still remain.”
“When a person can be married in the morning but thrown out of a restaurant for being gay in the afternoon, something is still very wrong in America,” the president said.
Saturday’s event comes amid a nationwide effort led largely by GOP state leaders to enact legislation that targets LGBTQ rights, including restrictions on gender-affirming care.
Across US state legislatures, at least 417 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in roughly the first quarter of 2023 – a new record and twice the number of such bills introduced all of last year, according to American Civil Liberties Union data.
Similarly, the number of such bills signed into law so far this year is more than double last year’s tally, which had been the highest on record, the Human Rights Campaign said. They include pronoun refusal laws, forced student outing laws, anti-drag bans and laws restricting classroom instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Earlier this week, the president announced that he will appoint a new federal coordinator to address the increase in book bans enacted across different states, efforts that the administration said “disproportionately target” the LGBTQ community.
The administration is also expected to unveil a new Department of Homeland Security-led partnership with the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to provide “dedicated safety training and resources,” new advisories from HHS to help mental health providers care for transgender and gender-diverse youth, and initiatives to protect LGBTQ youth in foster care and combat youth homelessness in the LGBTQ community.
At the event Saturday, Biden discussed confronting the HIV epidemic, ending limitations placed on gay and bisexual Americans donating blood, and combating conversion therapy, which he addressed through an executive order during last year’s Pride Month celebrations.
Biden also urged Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect people from being discriminated against based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
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CNN’s Donald Judd, Maegan Vasquez, Annie Grayer contributed to this reporting.