At the 2023 Human Rights Campaign National Dinner held at the Washington Convention Center on Saturday, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden passionately spoke in support of the LGBTQ+ community, emphasizing their continued commitment to combat discrimination and violence.
The occasion marked the fourth time Biden has spoken at the annual gala, but his first as president.
The first lady spoke first. During her speech, she was met with chants of “Four more years!” from the audience. For more than one minute, the crowd cheered and chanted as the standing ovation continued.
Responding with gratitude, Jill Biden said, “Well, I can certainly say we feel the love from you.”
Reflecting on darker times in the mid-20th Century during the Lavender Scare when queer federal employees were fired, Jill Biden added, “It’s a remarkable departure from where we had been when D.C. was a place where outing was used as a political weapon.”
She did not shy away from highlighting ongoing challenges.
“Across the country, in places like Texas and Florida and Alabama, LGBTQ individuals don’t have the freedom to be honest with their family or embrace their gender identity at work,” the professor, who holds a doctorate in education, said.
Jill Biden firmly stated the commitment she and the president share.
“Joe and I stand firmly and proudly with you in these fights,” she said.
Upon taking the stage after Dr. Jill, President Biden began with appreciation, declaring, “Folks, let me begin with a sincere thank you.”
He highlighted the global impact of the LGBTQ+ community, saying, “You are the beacon of light around the world, not a joke.” He continued, “It’s all about hope. Think about it. How do you live without hope? And this community in the United States of America is leading the world in giving people hope.”
Joe Biden drew attention to his administration’s achievements, particularly noting, “As Commander-in-Chief, I ended the ban on transgender Americans serving in the military.”
He also emphasized the significance of global human rights, mentioning Uganda’s draconian anti-homosexuality law.
“We’ve made human rights for LGBT [people] around the world a top priority in our foreign policy,” Joe Biden said.
However, he also addressed challenges and opposition to the rights of LGBTQ+ people as a whole and transgender people in particular by “MAGA Republicans.”
“Over 600 – 600 hateful laws introduced across the country, more than 70 of them becoming law just this last year, denying the existence of transgender people, silencing teachers, banning books, threatening parents with prison for getting their children healthcare,” the president said.
He further condemned attempts to reverse progress.
“In the United States Congress, extreme MAGA Republicans are trying to undo virtually every bit of progress we’ve made,” he said.
Toward the end of his speech, Joe Biden emphasized unity against all forms of hate.
He took a moment to acknowledge the tragedy of the recent Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel, noting the Americans killed in the massacres.
“A week ago, we saw hate manifest in another way in the worst massacre of Jewish people since the Holocaust,” he said. “More than 1,300 innocent lives lost in Israel, including at least 27 Americans.”
He said of the victims, “Children and grandparents alike kidnapped and held hostage by Hamas — a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Innocent Palestinian families – and the vast majority of them have nothing to do with Hamas. They’re being used as human shields.”
Recalling his conversation with families affected by the tragedy, Biden remarked, “Yesterday, I spoke for over an hour with the family members of those Americans who are still unaccounted for on a Zoom call. They’ve endured an agony of not knowing what has happened.”
Drawing a personal connection, he spoke of the tragedies he persevered when losing loved ones.
“It’s one thing to lose someone who you know you’re to lose and be there with them and hold their hands like I was able to do with my son. It’s a very other thing to get a phone call, like I got years ago, saying, ‘There’s been an accident. Your wife and daughter are dead. I’m not sure your boys are going to make it.’ The uncertainty of those two or three hours trying to get back to find out. It’s the worst feeling in the world. It’s gut-wrenching,” he said.
Jill and I came to the HRC National Dinner to say thank you for your courage, your hope, and your pride.\n \nThe Biden-Harris Administration has LGBTQI+ Americans’ backs.\n \nTogether, we’ll continue defending and advancing equal human rights across the country and the world.— President Biden (@President Biden) 1697336446
Tying hatred in all forms, including against the LGBTQ+ community, Biden continued, “And it’s yet another reminder that hate never goes away. It only hides. It hides under the rocks. I thought, being so deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement, when I was able to convince, of all people, Strom Thurmond to vote for the Voting Rights Act in his last year, changed his mind – I thought, ‘Well, you can defeat hate.’ But guess what happened? Hate just hides under the rocks until there’s a little oxygen blown under, like what happened in Charlottesville. Just a little bit. And then it comes roaring out again.”
“The antidote to hate is love,” he said, adding, “That’s why laws that actually protect equality matter to every single American no matter who you are, who you love, or where you come from.”
The president concluded with a rallying cry for collective action.
“We’re the United States of America. And there is nothing beyond our capacity when we do it together,” he said.
Toward the beginning of Joe Biden’s speech, an audience member interrupted him by yelling something difficult to hear because of the acoustics in the large room.
“I don’t know who’s hollering back there, but I can’t hear you,” Biden said, causing the audience to laugh as the person continued yelling.
Image: Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
“I can’t hear her. What’s she saying? Well, thank you. Whatever you’re saying. I’m going to say thank – I can’t hear you,” he said as the audience applauded, drowning out the interruption.
According to a White House transcript, the person yelled, “Let Gaza live! Ceasefire now! Let Gaza live! Ceasefire now!”