Karine Jean-Pierre on being a Black lesbian working for the White House: 'It matters' (exclusive) (2024)

As Karine Jean-Pierre approaches her second anniversary as White House Press Secretary on May 13, she carries the weight of being a trailblazer—the first Black woman and first LGBTQ+ person to hold the position. In an exclusive interview with The Advocate on Monday, Jean-Pierre shared insights into the significance of her presence and the broader implications for democracy and representation.

Jean-Pierre, 49, described her daily experience walking through the halls of the White House, where queer people and people of color have not always been welcome, as an overwhelming reminder of the progress made and the responsibilities she shoulders.

“It’s not lost on me what my presence at the podium behind that lectern means. Being a first in many different ways, I’m an immigrant, I’m a queer Black woman, a person of color, and it is incredibly a heavy weight that I understand is important to carry with respect and understanding,” she said.

Karine Jean-Pierre on being a Black lesbian working for the White House: 'It matters' (exclusive) (1)Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Reflecting on the legacy of those who paved the way for her and others, she emphasized, “There are folks who came before me, who laid down the path for many of us to take and to be able to break glass ceilings and to be able to do what I’m able to do every day.”

She recognizes the enormity of spending her days “saying things on behalf of this president of the United States—the leader of the free world,” adding, “It matters.”

During the interview, Jean-Pierre highlighted the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to LGBTQ+ rights, noting the symbolic and legislative efforts to support the community. “When you have a president at the State of the Union ... speaking directly to the LGBTQ+ community—the transgender community—saying, 'I have your back', that’s pretty powerful,” she remarked, noting President Joe Biden’s promise to protect transgender rights during his State of the Union speech in March.

Jean-Pierre drew attention to the administration’s proactive measures, such as signing the Respect for Marriage Act and reversing the Trump-era ban on transgender troops, highlighting its dedication to equality and civil rights. She also noted the reversal of the long-time ban on blood donations by gay and bisexual men.

Jean-Pierre credits Biden with many of the advances in LGBTQ+ rights.

She recounted how, as vice president in 2012, Biden publicly supported marriage equality in a notable Meet the Press interview, famously saying, “Love is love.“

Karine Jean-Pierre on being a Black lesbian working for the White House: 'It matters' (exclusive) (2)DREW ANGERER/AFP via Getty Images

“Let’s not forget that he said something that no one at his level, no other leader, was saying… And that people from the LGBTQ+ community have a right to get married,” Jean-Pierre said. She also pointed out the broader implications of Biden’s support, crediting him with paving the way for what she described as “the most pro-LGBTQ+ administration” in history.

Many senior Biden administration staff, including White House communication director Ben LaBolt and Jean-Pierre, as well as cabinet officials like Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine, represent the LGBTQ+ community. Members of the community are also well-represented on Vice President Kamala Harris's staff in senior roles and as close advisers.

Her high-profile role, Jean-Pierre believes, serves not only as a beacon of progress but also as an inspiration for future generations grappling with their identities in challenging times.

“Representation matters and it is important to have that representation, but showing up also matters. Showing up for myself, showing up for my colleagues, showing up for little boys and girls, young people who are trying to figure out who they are and looking at me and saying, well, maybe I can do this even if they feel unsafe,” Jean-Pierre said.

From the White House Brady Briefing Room, Jean-Pierre has embraced LGBTQ-related issues, elevating them to millions who see coverage of the daily press briefings. Recently, she highlighted the death of Nex Benedict, a transgender and indigenous teenager who took their own life after being bullied for their gender identity and expression. Biden addressed Benedict's death personally after Jean-Pierre spoke about the tragedy.

Jean-Pierre also spoke candidly about the importance of embracing her identity as a lesbian, especially in an era where the term itself can carry negative connotations.

“I feel like I have to be who I am unapologetically. I cannot think about what people think about me; it is their problem, not mine if they’re uncomfortable with the space that I occupy,” she said.

Karine Jean-Pierre on being a Black lesbian working for the White House: 'It matters' (exclusive) (2024)
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