Karine Jean-Pierre Keeps Speaking Out and Making History
When longtime political activist Karine Jean-Pierre became White House press secretary last year, she made history in three ways as the first out LGBTQ+ person, first Black person, and first immigrant to hold the job. But it's more than her identity that makes her significant. She's used her press briefings to call out homophobia, transphobia, and bigotry of all kinds. Read on for some of Jean-Pierre's greatest hits.
Denouncing Gun Violence, Talking Representation
In her first briefing as White House press secretary (as principal deputy, she'd filled in before), on May 16, Jean-Pierre acknowledged the historic nature of her appointment, but before that she commented on a recent tragedy, the mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. "Before we start the briefing, I want to take a moment to recognize the lives lost and forever changed in Buffalo," she said. Ten people, most of them Black, were killed in the attack, and Jean-Pierre gave a description of each one.
"We recognize their lives today and those affected by gun violence this weekend in Houston, in Southern California, Milwaukee, and communities across the country," Jean-Pierre added. "And we honor the bravery of those in law enforcement who responded quickly and with professionalism in Buffalo, and risk their lives every day to protect and serve their communities."
Then she noted that she was making history. "I am a Black gay immigrant woman, the first of all three of those to hold this position," she said. "I would not be here today if it were not for generations of barrier-breaking people before me. I stand on their shoulders. ... I benefit from their sacrifices, I have learned from their excellence, and I am forever grateful to them."
"Representation does matter ... and no one understands that better than President Biden, which is why his administration is not only the most diverse in history, it is filled with barrier-breaking women and men, from the vice president to the Cabinet secretaries to his Supreme Court nominee to senior staff throughout this administration," she added.
Shutting Down Fox News: 'I'm Done Here'
Jean-Pierre has demonstrated that she won't suffer fools gladly. One time she did so was in an exchange with Fox News Channel's Peter Doocy last July. The Supreme Court had just overturned Roe v. Wade, and abortion rights supporters protested outside a Washington, D.C., restaurant where Justice Brett Kavanaugh was dining; he was one of the six conservative justices who voted to overturn Roe. Doocy asked Jean-Pierre, "Does the president think it's appropriate for abortion rights protesters to intimidate Supreme Court justices when they're out eating?" and referenced the Kavanaugh incident.
Jean-Pierre replied that protesters have a right to demonstrate peacefully outside of a restaurant, but the administration condemns violence and intimidation. Doocy pressed on, asking if justices have no right to privacy. "This is what a democracy is," the press secretary responded. "Of course, people have a right to privacy, but people also have the right to be able to protest peacefully. It's the intimidation and the violence that we condemn."
She reiterated those points as Doocy continued to press her, pointing out that the administration has provided U.S. marshals through the Department of Justice to protect members of the court. Finally, she said, "I'm done here, Peter."
Reflecting on the Respect for Marriage Act
With Roe overturned, right-wing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas indicated he'd like the court to go after marriage equality next. Congress responded by passing the Respect for Marriage Act, which would protect marriage equality in federal law no matter what the court does. At her press briefing as President Biden was preparing to sign the act into law in December, Jean-Pierre talked about what the legislation meant to her and others.
"This is a big day for me, but not just me," Jean-Pierre said, responding to a question about the day's significance to her. "There are many colleagues that I work with here who are allies, who are also part of the community, who are incredibly proud. We're going to see about two to three thousand people out on the South Lawn -- activists who have worked on this issue for decades."
Jean-Pierre said she had just come from being with Biden, who was going over his remarks for the ceremony.
"The thing that I remember was 10 years ago...when he was on Meet the Press, and he said something that really no other national elected official was saying at the time," she continued. In 2012, during an appearance on the long-running NBC political show, then-Vice President Biden came out in favor of marriage equality, even before his boss, President Barack Obama, did. "[Biden] has always been an ally," Jean-Pierre said.
Tennessee Anti-Drag Law: Unacceptable and Unfortunate
As state legislatures went into session in 2023, there was another rash of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, including moves to restrict drag performances so as to assure no child will be exposed to a drag queen. Tennessee, led by Republican Gov. Bill Lee, was the first to pass such a law. In a March briefing, Jean-Pierre pointed out how ridiculous and offensive the law is.
“What sense does that make to go after drag shows?" she said. "How is that going to help people’s lives who are thinking about the economy, who are thinking about making sure their kids are going to be safe when they go to school, their communities are safe? But that’s what [Lee] wants to focus on.”
Lee “hasn’t been able to cite any examples — anything — to show that drag shows in public spaces are a problem,” she said, adding “These ridiculous policies aren’t just unnecessary, they are dangerous, they vilify our fellow Americans at a time when LGBTQ+ Americans are facing higher risks [of] violence, mental health issues, and it’s unacceptable, it’s completely unacceptable for a governor to be moving in this way with such a bill, and it’s also unfortunate.”
The President Has Your Back
It's not just drag shows right-wing politicians are going after. They're targeting transgender kids' health care, inclusive education, and more. Jean-Pierre spoke out against these efforts in a March briefing.
“I just want to take a step back a moment and really call out the shameful, hateful, and dangerous attacks that we have been seeing on the LGBTQI community as we’ve seen this week and also last week,” Jean-Pierre said. She mentioned that a speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference recently called for eradicating transgender people. “Language that not a single national Republican leader has condemned,” she said.
“Just think about a kid who’s sitting at home in this community who’s listening and hearing elected officials talking about how they want to take away their rights, or how they want to even threaten their parents with felony charges for seeking health care for their children,” she continued. “These kids are sitting at home having to listen to people who are supposed to protect them and their freedom saying these horrific, ugly, despicable things.”
She offered support too. “There is no asterisk over the word freedom in this country. We will not hesitate to call out this behavior if I have to do this, or we have to do this, or the president has to do this every week,” Jean-Pierre said.
“We will, and I’ll just say what the president has said over and over again when it comes to LGBTQ+ community: When it comes to vulnerable communities across the country that are constantly being attacked, we have their back. The president has their back, and that will continue.”
Condemning Anti-LGBTQ+ Actions From Florida to Uganda
Later in March, a reporter asked Jean-Pierre about a rule proposed at the Florida State Board of Education to expand the state’s infamous “don’t say gay or trans” law to cover all grades (which the board eventually approved).
“It’s wrong. It’s completely, utterly wrong,” Jean-Pierre said. “And we’ve been very crystal clear about that when it comes to the ‘don’t say gay’ bill and other actions that this governor [Ron DeSantis] has taken in the state of Florida.”
“But make no mistake, this is part of a disturbing and dangerous trend that we’re seeing across the country of legislations that are anti-LGBTQI+, anti-trans, anti the community in a way that we have not seen in some time,” she continued. “And it’s not just the LGBTQI+ community. We’re talking about students, we’re talking about educators, we’re talking about just individuals. And so the president has been very clear, this administration has been very clear, we will continue to fight for the dignity of Americans, for the dignity and respect of the community, of opportunity that should be given to students and families in Florida and across the country.”
Jean-Pierre also spoke against the Anti-Homosexuality Act, passed by Uganda’s Parliament and headed to President Yoweri Museveni for his assent, which appears likely. It would make same-sex relations punishable by death in some instances, an echo of legislation considered in the nation several years ago, and by up to 20 years in prison in other cases.
The Biden administration has “grave concerns” about the act, Jean-Pierre said. “This law would jeopardize progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, deter tourism and investment in Uganda, and damage Uganda’s international reputation,” she said. “The bill is one of the most extreme anti-LGBTQI+ laws in the world. Human rights are universal. No one should be attacked, imprisoned, or killed simply because of who they are or whom they love.”
Denouncing 'Don't Say Gay' Expansion and Threats Over Bud Light
In April, Jean-Pierre denounced multiple anti-LGBTQ+ actions around the nation, including Florida’s expansion of its “don’t say gay” law and the violence threatened by those who object to transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney’s endorsement of Bud Light beer.
Jean-Pierre called the Florida law “dystopian” and a form of “cancel culture.” “Teachers in Florida have already faced the devastating consequences of the existing law,” she said at the White House press briefing. “Under threat of having their licenses revoked, gay teachers have been forced to take down pictures of their spouses from their desks and censor their classroom materials. Censoring our classes is not how public education is supposed to work in a free country.
“Conservative politicians love to complain about the so-called cancel culture, all while threatening teachers with losing their jobs if they teach something that the MAGA extremists don’t agree with.”
On the Bud Light matter, the lesbian press secretary responded to threats against Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Bud Light. There have been bomb threats at the company’s factories in Los Angeles and elsewhere due to its partnership with Mulvaney, who released an Instagram video promoting the beer.
“When a transgender American posts a video about a brand of beer they enjoy and it leads to bomb threats, it’s clear that that level of violence and vitriol against transgender Americans has to stop,” Jean-Pierre said.