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First Lady Jill Biden appears at Pittsburgh Pride event, tells crowd 'Your president loves you.'

First Lady Jill Biden poses for photos and speaks with attendees shortly before taking the stage at Pittsburgh's 2024 Pride celebration on Saturday, June 1, 2024.
Chris Potter
90.5 WESA
First Lady Jill Biden poses for photos and speaks with attendees shortly before taking the stage at Pittsburgh's 2024 Pride celebration.

Pittsburgh’s 2024 Pride celebration kicked off Saturday with a visit from First Lady Jill Biden, who praised the LGBTQ movement for its courage while urging it to stand up again this November.

“All of you here today have called upon your courage, and you’ve used your voice to say ‘We will not go back. We will not let the progress we put forward slip away,’” she said.

But speaking from the Pride stage at Allegheny Commons Park on the North Side, Biden said another battle is coming, and re-electing her husband this fall would be instrumental in winning it.

“History teaches us that our rights and freedoms don’t disappear overnight,” Biden warned at one point. “They disappear slowly, sadly, silently. A book ban. A court decision. A ‘Don’t say gay’ law. One group of people loses its rights, and then another, and then another. Until one morning, you wake up and you no longer live in a democracy.”

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Biden mentioned Republican challenger Donald Trump by name only once during the eight-minute speech — she called him “a bully [who] is dangerous to the LGBTQ community, to our families, to our country” — and she made no mention of the fact that a New York jury convicted him days ago of 34 charges in a “hush-money” trial concerning Trump’s efforts to conceal payments to a porn star with whom he had an affair.

The White House has largely taken a hands-off approach to the verdict, as have many other Democrats. And Jill Biden kept her focus on Democrats’ efforts to protect gay marriage and other rights against challenges from the right.

She noted that the party had staved off Republican efforts to add a slew of anti-LGBTQ provisions to the federal spending bill that passed this spring.

But she said losing the White House would reverse many of those gains. She urged the crowd to “think about what it felt like on that morning after the 2016 election, when we fell short. Remember that feeling? Remember when we woke up and we said, ‘Oh my God, what just happened?’ We cannot let that happen again.”

Trump arguably has been less antagonistic to some LGBTQ causes, such as same-sex marriage rights, than some other Republicans. But he and the party he leads have increasingly united around a shared hostility to transgender people in particular.

By contrast, Biden was brought to the stage by local trans activist Dena Stanley, who said, “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine standing on this stage, speaking to all of you and witnessing such a historic moment for our city. I am my ancestors’ wildest dream.”

Biden was also preceded by Nathaniel Yap, a local Democratic activist who took the stage with his husband and two children. He praised the legal and cultural shifts that protected his family but reminded the crowd that “court rulings can get overturned,” and that conservatives already have begun urging the court to reverse rights for same-sex couples.

“What does that mean for our family and others like it across America, should the Supreme Court reverse protections for same-sex couples?” Yap asked. “This is why I will be proudly voting for Joe Biden.”

There were scattered chants of “Free Palestine” from outside the cordoned-off area in front of the stage during the First Lady’s speech, but she was otherwise warmly received. Attendees thronged around her prior to the address, speaking with her and taking photographs.

And Biden said she and her husband reciprocate that affection.

"We will secure a future … here people in all places can feel the freedom and pride that we feel here today,” she said. “I hope you know that I love you. Your president loves you.”

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.