Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during a press briefing at the White House in February. President Biden announced today that Jean-Pierre, who has been deputy Whit House press secretary, will replace Press Secretary Jen Psaki leaves on May 15. .(Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

BRODY LEVESQUE  |  Washington Blade
Courtesy of National LGBT Media Association

The White House announced today (Thursday, 5) that Karine Jean-Pierre has been promoted to be assistant to the president and White House press secretary. Jean-Pierre will replace current Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who will depart from the White House on May 13.

“I am proud to announce that Karine Jean-Pierre will serve as the next White House Press Secretary, President Biden said in the statement released today. “Karine not only brings the experience, talent and integrity needed for this difficult job, but she will continue to lead the way in communicating about the work of the Biden-Harris administration on behalf of the American people.

“Jill and I have known and respected Karine a long time, and she will be a strong voice speaking for me and this administration,” the president said.

Biden’s statement continued, praising Psaki for having “set the standard for returning decency, respect and decorum to the White House Briefing Room. I want to say thank you to Jen for raising the bar, communicating directly and truthfully to the American people and keeping her sense of humor while doing so. I thank Jen her service to the country and wish her the very best as she moves forward.”

Jean-Pierre was named to her first role in the Biden administration as deputy White House press secretary under Psaki in November 2020.

Jean-Pierre is not the first Black woman to hold the position of deputy White House press secretary; that honor belongs to former President George H.W. Bush’s Deputy White House Press Secretary Judy A. Smith in 1991. The first openly gay person to brief the press was Eric Schultz, who served as deputy White House press secretary during the Obama administration in 2014.

Jean-Pierre’s place in history, however, is cemented as the first deputy press secretary who is both Black and lesbian. Now her place in history is marked by her elevation as the first Black White House press secretary and the first lesbian White House press secretary.

The daughter of immigrant parents from Haiti, Jean-Pierre was born in Martinique and later raised in Queens, a borough of New York City. A longtime activist and communications specialist, she has a master’s in public affairs from New York’s Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, where she taught as an adjunct professor and lecturer in international and public affairs since 2014. During the first term of President Barack Obama, she served as the regional political director for the White House Office of Political Affairs.

Speaking with the Advocate magazine in June 2011, Jean-Pierre reflected on her tenure working for the Obama administration as an openly LGBT staffer: “What’s been wonderful is that I was not the only; I was one of many. President Obama didn’t hire LGBT staffers, he hired experienced individuals who happen to be LGBT,” she said. “Serving and working for President Obama, where you can be openly gay, has been an amazing honor. It felt incredible to be a part of an administration that prioritizes LGBT issues.”

In 2016 after her White House stint, Jean-Pierre served as a senior advisor and national spokesperson for Washington, D.C.-based MoveOn, a progressive non-profit public policy advocacy group and political action committee. Her primary portfolio at the non-profit was addressing President Trump’s rhetoric and platform of hate, violence, racism, immigrant-bashing and women-bashing.

Jean-Pierre received national recognition after a June 1, 2019, incident during the MoveOn Big Ideas Forum she was moderating in San Francisco, when 24 year-old Aidan Cook, a member of the animal right activist organization Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), rushed the stage, grabbing the microphone out of then-U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’s hand. The senator was a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination at the time of the incident.

Jean-Pierre, who had jumped in between Cook and the senator after he took the microphone, kept the activist away from Harris until security arrived and removed him. At the time of the incident, Harris, like most other candidates in early stages of the primary process, didn’t have a U.S. Secret Service detail for protection.

Jean-Pierre joined the Biden-Harris campaign in May 2020 and then accepted the position of chief of staff to Harris in August. She, her partner, CNN correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, and their daughter reside in Washington, D.C.