Biden rallies for LGBTQ+ rights as he looks to shake off an uneven debate performance

President Joe Biden courted LGBTQ+ voters with two New York events on Friday and warned about Donald Trump returning to the White House, as he looked to shake off a widely panned debate performance.

Biden inaugurated a visitor center at the Stonewall National Monument with pop legend Elton John and later headlined a Pride Month fundraiser.

"You marked a turning point in civil rights in America," Biden told the crowd at the Stonewall monument, a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride for decades. He added, that "we remain in a battle for the soul of America" but "I look around at the pride, hope and life that all of you, all of you, bring, and I know it's a battle that we're going to win."

Biden used the evening fundraiser at the Manhattan Center as a chance to emphasize his differences with former Trump, who he said posed a threat to the rights achieved by the LGBTQ+ community. He energetically stressed to the crowd that he would not be running for a second term "if I did not believe with all my heart and soul that I can do this job."

"Let there be no doubt: I will continue to defend your freedoms," Biden said. "Trump is committed to roll back all the progress"

Biden's often halting first debate against Trump has some in his party worried about whether he's up for the rigors of the campaign's final months. The president didn't mention the debate but briefly called to the stage Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand who declared, "He's a fighter."

Even before the debate, Biden was trying to boost support within the Democratic-leaning gay community after losing ground with Black and Latino adults and other demographic groups that helped elect him in 2020 and whose strong backing he needs to win reelection in November.

About 4 in 10 LGBTQ+ identifying adults approve of how Biden is handling his job as president, according to Gallup data collected in 2024. That’s in line with the share of the general population that approves of the president’s job performance. About 7 in 10 LGBTQ+ voters supported Biden in the 2020 election, according to AP VoteCast, a comprehensive survey of voters and nonvoters.

Michael Panzarella of Phoenix said he’s an independent voter and won his trip to the event by donating to an LGBTQ+ advocacy group. He called the debate "unfortunate" because "instead of discussing actual issues, we discuss wedge topics and stick with narratives that are false."

John performed a rollicking version of "Bennie and the Jets," which he said was about an androgynous band, then offered a defiant rendition of "I’m Still Standing." He closed with "Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me," after reflecting aloud on "all the troubles that so many of us have been through."

Another pop star, Katy Perry, briefly took the stage and called the visitor center "a destination full of love to honor a community that deserves so much respect."

Also among those attending was former NBA player Jason Collins, who in 2013 became the first then-active player in any of the four major pro-U.S. sports leagues to come out as gay. He said that "a lot of LGBTQ students aren’t really being told their history."

"We need monuments like this to understand where our country has been and where change needs to continue to happen," Collins said in an interview.

Biden's stance on LGBTQ+ issues has evolved throughout his decades of public service.

As a U.S. senator, he voted in 1996 for the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbade federal recognition of same-sex unions.

Then, more than a decade later, Biden as vice president declared in 2012 on "Meet the Press" that he supported gay marriage, upstaging his boss, President Barack Obama, who had not yet stated his position on the issue. Obama said he supported gay marriage shortly thereafter.

As president, Biden has acted to protect the rights of gay and transgender people, such as reinstating anti-discrimination provisions eliminated by then-President Trump. Biden also ended a ban on transgender people serving in the military.

Two years ago, the president signed legislation into law to protect gay unions, particularly if the Supreme Court should overturn its landmark 2015 decision that same-sex couples had a right to marry. Earlier this week, Biden pardoned potentially thousands of former U.S. service members who had been convicted of violating a now-repealed military ban on consensual gay sex.

By contrast, Trump has criticized what he calls transgender "insanity" and has said he would move quickly to reinstate the ban on their service in the military if reelected. He also has panned gender-affirming care for transgender minors along with their ability to play on sports teams.

Cait Smith, director of LGBTQ+ policy at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning think tank in Washington, said Biden has a close relationship with the community.

"He has a pretty long history of moving very quickly with the community and with where our needs are, even with the kind of gridlock we have in Congress," Smith said.

The new Stonewall visitor center occupies half of the original Stonewall Inn, which once spanned two neighboring buildings in New York’s Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan. In the late 1960s, it was a gay bar where a young LGBTQ+ crowd went to dance at a time when dancing with or kissing a same-sex partner could get people arrested.

Police raids were frequent and usually generated little if any pushback. But when officers strode into the Stonewall Inn early on June 28, 1969, for the second time that week, customers and a gathering crowd outside confronted them with shouts of "gay power!" followed by hurled coins, bottles and more.

Protests and clashes with police continued the next several nights and, in the ensuing months and years, led to a new, more fulsome and more militant wave of LGTBQ+ rights activism than had existed before in the U.S. Within a year, a raft of new groups had formed to demand rights and recognition, and what became annual Pride marches began on the Stonewall anniversary.

The site of the rebellion, including both buildings that made up the original Stonewall Inn, became a National Historic Landmark in 2000. In 2016, then-President Obama made it the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ+ history.

The original Stonewall Inn closed soon after the raid. A new version of the bar has occupied one of the two buildings since the 1990s, but the space that’s now the visitor center was adapted to various other uses and then sat vacant in recent years.

Overseen by the National Park Service and the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Pride Live, the $3.2 million visitor center was financed chiefly with private donations, except for $450,000 from the park service’s charitable arm, which gets private and federal money.


Associated Press writers Linley Sanders and Will Weissert in Washington contributed to this report.