Bis at Biden’s: Honoring Emerging LGBT Leaders at the VP’s Home

Jul 9, 2021 | 2013 Winter - Mixed Marriages

On September 12, 2012, the White House organized a briefing with Administration officials for emerging LGBT leaders, followed by an evening reception at the Vice President’s home. Bi activists Sarah Young and Dominique Gant attended the event along with Chris Pierce, a bi activist from Chicago and a couple hundred other LGBT activists. Sarah and Dominique share their impressions of the event:

Sarah Young:

I’m not one for exaggeration, so I say with sincerity that being a part of the Emerging LGBTQ Leaders event at the invitation of Vice President Biden was one of the best days of my life. The day began with a group tour of the East Wing of the White House (the part many would recognize as the ceremonial wing with ornate furniture). This was the first gathering of all the leaders, and a great way to meet many of my fellow honorees, including a handful of bi activists from around the country.

We went next to a policy briefing in the Executive Office Building near the White House. The policy briefing was held in what looked to be a press room, complete with the blue drapes and the presidential insignia hanging behind the podium. While the issues we discussed were serious, the tone was one of excitement and celebration. Gautam Raghavan, Associate Director of Public Engagement, welcomed us and thanked all of us for our service and our leadership within the LGBTQ community.

The policy briefing included three panel discussions, each about an hour long. The first panel discussion was about international issues related to LGBTQ people. It included representatives from the State Department, the National Security Office, and US AID. The information helped ground us in struggles abroad, and how our work is connected to LGBTQ leaders globally. The second panel discussion concerned legal issues facing the LGBTQ community, and highlighted key legal and policy victories that President Obama and his administration have helped spearhead. The third was a panel on LGBTQ Youth issues, including speakers from the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Service, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The information was connected to bullying, health and wellness of LGBTQ youth, issues about which I’m very passionate.

In the afternoon, we were free to attend a variety of open house events at LGBTQ organizations around D.C. I chose to visit the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), where I met Dr. Joe Kosciw, someone I admire very much. I refer to Dr. Kosciw as the “godfather of LGBTQ youth research” since he publishes widely on the subject and is a key researcher for GLSEN’s school climate research. Since my dissertation will be about LGBTQ youth policy in schools, connecting with Dr. Kosciw was an exciting opportunity, one I wouldn’t have had if I weren’t in D.C. for the event: I was able to travel with GLSEN staff to the crowning event, the reception at Vice President Joe Biden’s home.

Security was in place, and we queued up to pass a variety of screenings before we were allowed through the gates. The reception took place around the pool, which was lit up with white lights and surrounded by various food and drink stations. I happened to be in the right place at the right time, because as the vice president and Dr. Jill Biden entered the reception area, I was about five feet from the podium and I was able to shake the vice president’s hand as he entered to give the speech. Dr. Jill Biden gave very moving opening remarks, highlighting the president and vice president’s demonstrated commitment to the LGBTQ community. Vice President Biden spoke about the need for our country to move forward, honoring citizens and enhancing quality of life. The vice president suggested that as bi activists (or as LGT or Q activists), we may be doing more of a service for our cisgender and straight citizens than we are for ourselves. He reminded us that by serving as out people, we are educating those who don’t understand but need to, we are serving as role models for youth, and we are helping make America more inclusive and beautifully diverse.

I am originally from Upstate New York, but consider myself a Southern transplant after having lived in Mississippi (and now Alabama) for four years. I moved to Mississippi after I received a New Voices Fellowship with the Ford Foundation. New Voices funds emerging non-profit leaders, and provides them the support and the tools to design and implement projects of their choosing in conjunction with non-profits across the country. My vision was to support the LGBTQ and HIV work of the ACLU of Mississippi.

My fellowship led to the development of the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition, a youth-led organization that trains LGBTQA youth leaders to tell their own stories, advocate for policy change, and educate others on how to become better allies and advocates for LGBTQ youth in the state. My work with MSSC has led to several high-profile legal cases. More importantly, I’ve been a part of a process that helps train the next generation of queer youth leaders in the oppressive state of Mississippi. I truly feel privileged to be able to do this work in a region where it is desperately needed.

I can’t express enough how grateful I am to Jen Bonardi and Ellyn Ruthstrom of the Bisexual Resource Center for recommending me. Jen is my Point Foundation mentor, and connecting with another out bi woman has really helped me grow and feel supported. I’d also like to thank Robyn Ochs, who officially put my name forward for the event.

Here are two anecdotes from the event:

  • I found Vice President Biden and Dr. Biden to be warm and very down-to-earth. While Dr. Biden was speaking, I noticed a German Shepherd walking around the party. I assumed, given the presence of Secret Service personnel, that the dog was part of security. However, the dog went up to the vice president and nuzzled his hand. Vice President Biden bent over and kissed the dog on his head. It was obviously his dog. This made it feel like a house party, and it humanized the vice president for me.
  • I noticed the ease with which Dr. and Vice President Biden circulated among the crowd of very diverse queer people. They stayed and talked, seemed very genuine, and Vice President Biden encouraged us to stay and make ourselves at home in his home. He did warn us, humorously, that if we were to go upstairs in thirty minutes though, we would be overhearing a national security briefing and we would be arrested on sight.


It was an amazing, humbling, experience to attend the policy briefings and the End of Summer Barbecue at Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden’s home. Although it was a bit overwhelming being surrounded by so many accomplished people in our community, there was also comfort in being surrounded by people who were essentially working for the same cause and toward the same end. Especially amazing about the event was the White House’s overt recognition, support, and acceptance of our efforts. It was reassuring to know that our goals and our efforts are shared by powerful people in high public office. Moreover, this event was not just a barbecue at which to be recognized, hear speeches, and network amongst ourselves. Earlier in the day, we young leaders were invited to attend panels in which issues and policy of importance to the LGBTQI community were discussed. This showed us young leaders—and me specifically—that the current administration is actively working with us to better the world for our community. The ability to hear from and comment on these panels was, I believe, just as important as the barbecue.

As a bisexual woman attending the event, I was delighted to meet a few other bi women and know that I was definitely not alone in my identity at this event. It was great to see that some effort was made to ensure the attendance of most of the identities of the acronym. I am sure I did not meet all of the bisexual leaders present, but I was fortunate to meet four of them. Although a presumably small group, I am glad that there was a bisexual presence at the Vice President’s End of Summer Barbecue.

Dominique with Vice President Biden


Sarah Young is a Point Foundation Scholar and graduate student at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, AL.

Dominique is an sophomore at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

Featured image: Point Foundation Scholars, with Vice President Biden. Sarah is 2nd from the right.

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