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Karine Jean-Pierre on building a 'stronger and more inclusive' America

Jean-Pierre, an out lesbian, broke barriers as Kamala Harris’ chief of staff during the 2020 presidential campaign before making history as a White House spokeswoman.
Image: Karine Jean Pierre.
Karine Jean-Pierre.NBC News; Getty Images

[June is Pride Month, and this year we're celebrating by honoring 30 LGBTQ firsts. To see the full list, visit]

Karine Jean-Pierre makes history.

She did it just last week, when she took to the podium at the White House, becoming the first openly gay spokeswoman — and the second Black woman — to lead a formal briefing.

"It's a real honor to be standing here today," Jean-Pierre said last week. "Clearly the president believes that representation matters, and I appreciate him giving me this opportunity."

His vice president clearly thinks the same: Jean-Pierre made history last year as well, serving as chief of staff for then-vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris. Jean-Pierre was the first Black woman, and first out lesbian, to be in that role.

“I believe that America, one that is stronger and more inclusive, is within reach,” she told Out magazine last year. “America is progressing towards a stronger, more inclusive future — and I know women of color are a driving force in that evolution.”

Though Jean-Pierre, 43, has recently come into the spotlight, she has been doing the work for years, with two decades in politics. Her success was hard won, and due, in part to her perseverance in both her personal life and in the political arena.

She worked in New York City politics, served in the Obama administration and was a spokesperson for MoveOn, a liberal advocacy group and political action committee. She was also an MSNBC political analyst.

In a video for MoveOn, titled “I Am Everything Trump Hates,” she said, “I’m a Black woman, I’m gay, I am a mom. Both my parents were born in Haiti.” She said growing up in an immigrant family defined her. Her father was a taxi driver. Her mother, a caregiver. She was taught to work hard. Encouraged to be a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer, Jean-Pierre said it was when she went to Washington to work for the Obama administration that her parents understood she was changing the world — by being exactly who she is.

“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 told the Advocate in 2011. “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.”

Jean-Pierre is the first to point out it wasn’t a smooth road to the White House. She experienced dark times in her youth, which she wrote about for NBC News in 2019, partially due to the enormous pressures put on her growing up and the silence around mental health that was prevalent in her community. She wrote that she felt like a failure and an outsider and saw suicide as her way out. She attempted it, writing that she never thought she’d speak publicly about mental illness.

“I grew up being told to keep my problems inside. And that’s what I did,” she wrote. “But so many of my problems stemmed from thinking that my family would be better off without me.”

It took some time, but she was able to get the help she needed and learn how to keep her mental health in check, getting a therapist, committing to exercise that makes her feel better and talking to her family about her struggles.

She continues to push through. She told PBS "NewsHour" about her partner and young daughter and said that raising her daughter has underlined the importance of her work.

"And I think that helps me persevere," she said, "and that helps me understand, what kind of world do I want to leave for her?"

If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or visit for additional resources.

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