President Joe Biden formally recognized Pride Month in a celebratory White House ceremony on Friday, touting his administration’s accomplishments on behalf of LGBTQ people and calling on Congress to pass a sweeping civil rights proposal known as the Equality Act.
“My name is Ashton Mota, I use he/him pronouns, and I’m honored to be here with you all today,” Mota said. “I am a 16-year-old Black, Afro-Latino high school student from Lowell, Massachusetts. I also happen to be transgender.”
Mota said that he told his mom about his identity on his 12th birthday.
“I was scared because I didn’t know how she would react, but she told me she loved me. That I was her child and that she would support me so I could be the person I was meant to be,” he said.
Mota went on to describe how the trans community continues to face discrimination and wakes up to “headline after headline about bill after bill that prevent us from joining a sports team, receiving healthcare, or even just using the bathroom.
“This is why passing the Equality Act is so important,” he said..
The Equality Act, a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, is among one of Biden’s top legislative priorities, according to remarks he made on the campaign trail. (The bill faces opposition in Congress from Republicans who have honed in on transgender rights as a cultural flashpoint.)
In February, the House of Representatives voted to pass the measure, though it would need 60 votes in the Senate to survive a filibuster.
Following his introduction by Mota, Biden, 78, joked that the teenager “seemed awfully comfortable up here,” nodding toward his podium.
“Your story, your leadership and your mom is just an inspiration,” Biden said of Mota.
Biden continued, saying that the remarks on Friday sent a simple message in contrast with the previous administartion: “Pride is back at the White House.”
Calling transgender kids “some of the bravest people in the world,” Biden added: “It takes courage to be true to your authentic self, and to face discrimination … it takes a toll.”
Referencing the large number of bills directed at LGBTQ youth in GOP-led states around the country, the president said, “These laws are hurting them, and it’s got to stop.”
“When I came out as transgender, it didn’t take me long to realize that there wasn’t enough representation of transgender youth in the media. And within the representation of transgender youth in the media, there weren’t really any youth of color,” Mota said in a 2020 interview with the Human Rights Campaign.
Mota, who serves as a youth ambassador for the group, previously spoke to the HRC about the importance of representation for transgender youth.
At the White House, Pride celebrations had all but disappeared under the previous president (the Trump administration recognized Pride Month in 2019, though not with an official presidential proclamation).
Since assuming office in January, Biden has worked to reverse many of the Trump administration’s anti-LGBTQ policies, overturning a ban on transgender people serving in the military and issuing an executive order to protect transgender students.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay Cabinet secretary, also delivered remarks at Friday’s event, introducing Mota to acknowledge that the administration stands firmly behind “a whole lot of us have your back, starting at the top.”
Buttigieg, 39, also used his speech to acknowledge his husband, Chasten, “for all that he has done to help people see themselves in a new light of belonging and possibility.”
Speaking on Friday, Buttigieg recalled his own memories of growing up and learning that “being LGBTQ was something that could cost you your job, or cost you your life.”
“I became a military officer under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ ran for office in Indiana, time and again facing thatchoice between service and love, between duty and self. My whole self,” he said. “And yet today, here I am … 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.”
It feels good to have Pride being recognized and celebrated in the White House again.