When she was 16, new White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre decided to come out to her mother.
She’d known since she was five that she was different. Born in Martinique to Haitian parents, Jean-Pierre’s family moved to Queens, where she was raised by her mother, a home health aide active in the Pentecostal church, and her father, a cab driver trained as an engineer. She was a de facto parent for her younger siblings while their mother and father worked six or seven days a week. She juggled school work on a path to the medical degree her parents’ hoped for.
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And she had been sexually abused by an older male cousin starting when she was seven-years-old.
All along, Jean-Pierre knew that she was gay, but was too ashamed to admit it.
At 16, when she finally worked up the courage to share her secret with her mother.
“It devastated her,” Jean-Pierre told USA Today in a recent interview.
“She hated – hated – the fact that I was gay or hated the fact that I said that to her,” she continued. “And it destroyed her.”
While struggling with her sexuality, Jean-Pierre went on to study pre-med at the New York Institute of Technology, where she failed qualifying exams.
“Becoming a doctor was to be my saving grace,” writes Jean-Pierre in her memoir Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America. “I had always clung to it as if it were a life raft. So when I failed at this one thing, my entire world crumbled. I wanted to die.”
Jean-Pierre attempted suicide.
“Thanks in large part to my inability to confront my sexuality, I was so afraid of who I really was that I invested absolutely everything into who my parents and siblings thought I was and wanted me to be.”
In the years that followed, Jean-Pierre earned a degree at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and found a mentor in New York mayor David Dinkins, who inspired a career in politics and activism that’s taken Jean-Pierre to a top spot in the White House.
In 2012, she met CNN anchor Suzanne Malveux at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte. They’ve been together since and are raising a daughter in the Washington suburbs.
And what about Jean-Pierre’s mom?
“I’m happy to say,” Jean-Pierre tweeted during Pride Month last year, “my Mother is now proud of ALL of who I am; she loves my partner and she loves being a doting grandmother to the daughter we are raising.”
“Just as American society has evolved over the course of the past couple of decades to embrace the LGBTQ community (never forgetting we still have work to do), my family has evolved to embrace my membership in it.”
“My journey towards feeling accepted by myself and loved ones wasn’t an easy one, but it was worthwhile. No matter where you are in your journey, I see you, we see you and we celebrate you – Happy Pride!”
I dated, but I hid those relationships from my family. Just as American society has evolved over the course of the past couple of decades to embrace the LGBTQ community (never forgetting we still have work to do), my family has evolved to embrace my membership in it.
— Karine Jean-Pierre (@KJP46) June 25, 2021