Biden Declares Pulse Nightclub a Memorial After 2016 Shooting

President Joe Biden decried “cruel and unconscionable” attacks against LGBTQ Americans after signing a law designating the former Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a national memorial to commemorate the 2016 shooting that killed 49 people.

“A place of acceptance and joy became a place of unspeakable pain and loss,” Biden said Friday at the White House, referring to the shooting at the gay nightclub. “May no president ever have to sign another monument like this.”

Earlier Friday, Biden appointed Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, as a special envoy at the State Department for LGBTQ issues. The White House said in a statement that the position is “critical to ensuring that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights” of LGBTQ people across the globe.

Biden’s actions on Friday were designed to mark Pride Month. The president also spoke out against state-level legislation seeking to limit the rights of LGBTQ people, and said Congress needs to act to protect them.

“We’re also making progress but I know we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do,” Biden said at a separate White House event. “We must protect the gains we’ve made and fend off the cruel and unconscionable attacks we’re seeing now to ensure that everyone enjoys the full promise of equality and dignity and protection.”

Biden called on the Senate to pass the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The House passed the bill in February but it has run into opposition from Republicans in the Senate who say the measure infringes on religious freedom.

The Equality Act would amend federal civil rights laws and extend protections to cover sexual orientation and gender identity in the workforce, public places and government programs. It would allow LGBTQ+ individuals to take civil action in court for alleged discrimination.

The president said he’s working to end discrimination against same-sex couples who “can be married in the morning but denied a lease in the afternoon for being gay.”

“Pride is back at the White House,” he said.

Biden’s designation of the nightclub as a memorial is informal; it will not become a part of the National Parks System or require federal funding. The president and first lady Jill Biden also met with survivors of the shooting, family members of the victims and lawmakers from Florida’s congressional delegation.

The June 12, 2016, one of the worst mass killings in U.S. history, also wounded more than 50 people. Police shot and killed the gunman.

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