White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre made history on Wednesday by being the first Black woman in decades and the first openly LGBTQ woman to conduct a White House briefing, although she declined to mark the occasion by calling on the LGBTQ press in the room.
Jean-Pierre, asked during the White House briefing about the significance of her conducting it, recognized the milestone but also downplayed it in favor of praising the Biden administration.
“I appreciate the historic nature; I really do,” Jean-Pierre said. “But I believe that…being behind this podium, being in this room, being in this building is not about one person: It’s about what we do on behalf of the American people. Clearly, the president believes representation matters, and I appreciate him giving me this opportunity, and it’s another reason why we are so proud and this is the most diverse administration in history.”
Jean-Pierre, after repeating that it wasn’t about her, added “We’re going to be truthful, we’re going to be transparent and that’s the way, I believe, the president would want us to communicate to the American people.”
Many of the questions Jean-Pierre took were on new reports of intelligence the coronavirus may have been the product of lab engineering in Wuhan, China, which she addressed by deferring to an ongoing Biden administration review of the matter. Jean-Pierre, in response to another question about President Biden’s meeting with the George Floyd family on Tuesday, said the occasion was “deeply personal” for him.
Jean-Pierre is not the first openly LGBTQ person to conduct a White House press briefing. That distinction belongs to Eric Schultz, who was deputy White House press secretary during the Obama years and conducted his first briefing in 2015.
Other openly gay administration officials have served as principals during the White House briefing and answered questions, including acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell during the Trump administration and current Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Jean-Pierre, however, declined to mark the occasion by calling on the Washington Blade, which is the only LGBTQ outlet in the White House briefing room and in the seating rotation under coronavirus restrictions today to ask a question. The Blade was present in the room for its turn in the rotation and its reporter’s hand was raised for an inquiry the entire time.
Had the Blade asked a question, the topic would have been the upcoming Pride month and whether the White House would restore the practice during the Obama years of holding a reception, as well as any plans to light up the White House in rainbow colors as the Obama administration did in 2015.
Matt Hill, a White House spokesperson, was vague last week in response to a Blade inquiry via email over Pride plans within the Biden administration.
“President Biden is proud to have taken executive action since his first day in office to champion full equality and strengthen civil rights for LGBTQ Americans,” Hill said. “From reversing the transgender military ban, urging Congress to send the Equality Act to his desk, preventing discrimination in housing, healthcare, and lending, President Biden has sent a clear message to LGBTQ people at home and around the world: he has your back. During Pride Month, the Biden-Harris Administration will continue advancing the President’s commitment to equality and equity and we look forward to sharing more about our efforts throughout June.”
Another question the Blade would have asked — as the number of anti-trans laws enacted by state legislatures this year continues to pile up, including a measure last week in Tennessee requiring businesses to post signage if they have restroom policies respecting the gender identity of transgender people — is whether the Justice Department has given the White House any heads up about upcoming legal action against these measures.
Other journalists in the briefing room aside from the Blade also weren’t able to get a question in during the briefing the same day, including reporters from the New York Post, the Daily Mail and a representative from the foreign press. Although the Blade attempted to get a question before the briefing closed by shouting a request, another reporter from a conservative outlet largely drowned that out by interrupting at the end of the briefing by shouting questions on assertions Anthony Fauci perjured himself in testimony before Congress.