WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden welcomed hundreds to the White House on Saturday for a delayed Pride Month celebration aimed at showing LGBTQ+ people that his administration has their back at a time when advocates are warning of a spike in discriminatory legislation, particularly aimed at the transgender community, sweeping through statehouses.
The event, which the administration described as the largest Pride event hosted at the White House, was initially scheduled for Thursday, but was postponed because of poor air quality from hazardous air flowing in from Canadian wildfires. But the haze that blanketed a huge swath of the East Coast this past week had lifted over the nation's capital, allowing the president and first lady Jill Biden to hold their South Lawn party.
"So today, I want to send a message to the entire community -- especially to transgender children: You are loved. You are heard. You're understood. And you belong," Biden said.
Pride Month is being celebrated this year as state lawmakers have introduced at least 525 bills and enacted 78 bills that whittle away at LGBTQ+ rights, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a group that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights.
That tally includes a recent flurry of bills that affect transgender people, including legislation recently passed by Republican governors vying for the 2024 presidential nomination.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a bill into that bans gender-affirming medical care such as puberty blockers or hormone therapy for transgender youths. Earlier in the week, a federal judge temporarily blocked portions of a law that DeSantis signed shortly before announcing that he was running for president.
In North Dakota, Gov. Doug Burgum last month signed a bill that prohibits public schools and government entities from requiring teachers and employees to refer to transgender people by the pronouns they use. Burgum, who like DeSantis has made culture issues a central part of his tenure as governor, joined the White House primary field.
Josh Helfgott, an LGBTQ+ activist and social media influencer from New York City, said marking Pride Month at the White House felt like one of the most important moments of his life. But he said the tide of legislation added another layer to this year's celebrations.
"Pride this year is so important because we cannot be silent when faced with hate and bigotry," Helfgott said "The other side is so loud, incredibly loud. "
Anjali Rimi of San Francisco attended the White House event with her mother, who recently immigrated from India.
Rimi came to the United States more than 20 years ago because, she said, she was shunned by family and society as a transgender person.
Times were tough in the United States, too, she said. She was pushed out of a job after she came out, was homeless for a time, and took asylum in Canada for about a decade before returning to the United States.
"It's a moment that we are going to cherish for a lifetime," said Rimi, an activist in San Francisco's LGBTQ+ community. "This is a joyful moment, but it's also one that reminds us that we have so much work to do."