President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress in the House chamber of the US Capitol 28 April 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)
As Joe Biden marks his first 100 days in office Thursday (29 April), we look back at what he’s accomplished for LGBT+ folks – and what still needs to be done.
Biden’s first joint address to Congress to mark the milestone focused on his hopes for the US going forward and took the time to directly address queer Americans directly.
He began his remarks to the LGBT+ community by saying he hoped Congress can get the Equality Act, which will “protect the rights of LGBTQ Americans”, to his desk to be signed into law. The landmark legislation has been held up in the Senate since it passed through the House in February.
Biden also took the time to honour the “brave” transgender community, who are fighting simply to exist amid a wave of anti-trans legislation in numerous states. He said: “To all the transgender Americans watching at home – especially the young people who are so brave – I want you to know that your president has your back.”
Few dates carry as much weight as the president’s first 100 days in office. As Biden crosses this landmark milestone, PinkNews looks back at everything that he’s done for LGBT+ rights and what’s left for his administration to achieve.
1. Biden signed the ‘most substantive LGBT+ executive order in history’ on his first day
The groundbreaking executive order directed all federal agencies that enforce federal laws to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The order reinforced Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and required the federal government not to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
As such, the Biden administration reassured the countless LGBT+ staffers at federal agencies that the government will not discriminate against them in the workplace. The executive order also required that the head of each agency review all existing regulations, guidance documents, programs and policies to ensure that they comply with the order.
The order overturned a 23-page memo from John Daukas, head of the civil rights division in Trump’s Department of Justice, issued just days before the Biden administration would come into the office. The memo sought to warp the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v Clayton County, a ruling which established employers can’t discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Daukus’s memo sought to carve out exceptions from the ruling, arguing that religious people should still be free to discriminate against LGBT+ employees. However, Greg Friel, a lawyer appointed as temporary head of the civil rights division in Biden’s Department of Justice, revoked the document, saying the memo was not consistent with the newly issued executive order Biden signed on his first day.
2. He repealed Trump’s trans military ban
In one of the dozens of executive orders Joe Biden has signed, the president abolished a Trump-era ban on trans people being able to serve in the military. Biden’s order directed the Department of Defense to scrap the vile policy and revert to procedures put in place under the Obama administration that allows trans service members to openly serve in the military.
The Pentagon said in March that its updated policies will make it easier for trans individuals to join the military and access medical treatment while serving.
3. Biden’s cabinet is one of the most inclusive in US history
The president kicked off his term by assembling one of the most LGBT+ inclusive cabinets in history. This includes the first openly gay Senate-confirmed cabinet official, Pete Buttigieg. He also nominated trailblazing trans doctor Rachel Levine to the role of assistant secretary of health.
On Friday (23 April), he also announced plans to nominate two LGBT+ officials to high-ranking posts in the Department of Defence. President Joe Biden said he intended to nominate Brenda “Sue” Fulton – a lesbian activist who fought to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – to the role of assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs.
He also announced his intention to nominate Shawn Skelley, a transgender national security expert, to the role of assistant secretary of defense for readiness. She joined Obama’s administration as the first trans veteran appointed by a US president and has worked as part of Biden’s presidential transition team.
4. He killed off a Trump proposal to let homeless shelters discriminate
The Biden administration announced on 22 April that it would withdraw the rule. In a statement, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said the Trump administration’s rule-change would have weakened the Equal Access Rule, which ensures people can access publicly-funded shelters and services – regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
HUD secretary Marcia Fudge said the organisation is “open for business for all”, and that no person should be “denied access to housing or other critical services because of their gender identity”.
5. Biden protected LGBT+ students
In a memo to federal agencies published earlier this month, the Biden administration confirmed that the 1972 civil rights law known as Title IX should be read as covering LGBT+ students. This means federal law now prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexuality in all federally-funded education institutions in the US.
Title IX was enacted as a follow-up to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and bans discrimination “based on sex” in education. In 2017, then-secretary of education Besty DeVos withdrew Obama-era guidance which stipulated Title IX covered LGBT+ students. DeVos argued at the time that the discrimination protections had been a “very huge” example of “overreach” under Obama.
6. He pledged to restore America’s global leadership on LGBT+ rights
President Biden signed a historic memorandum calling for the worldwide protection of LGBT+ rights in February. Biden said it was the intention of his administration to “repair our moral leadership” and “reinvigorate our leadership on the LGBTQI issues and do it internationally”.
“We’ll ensure diplomacy and foreign assistance are working to promote the rights of those individuals included by combatting criminalisation and protecting the LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers,” he promised.
Reporting on LGBT+ issues abroad decreased by a shocking 21 per cent under the Trump administration. Biden promised to restore the country’s global leadership on LGBT+ issues including heading up a coalition of like-minded governments and organisations who will use America’s “full range of diplomatic tools” to push to for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
7. Biden formed a new gender policy council
The Biden administration announced the formation of the White House Gender Policy Council on International Women’s Day in March. The White House said the council will be an “essential part” of the administration plan to “ensure we build a more equal and just society – by aggressively protecting the rights and unique needs of those who experience multiple forms of discrimination”. This includes individuals who are Black, Native, Asian American, Pacific Islanders, people with disabilities and the LGBT+ community.
The announcement of the council was accompanied by two more executive orders to protect LGBT+ people and women. One order focused on advancing gender equality and equal opportunities for women and girls. The second focused on reviewing the US Department of Education’s policies to “guarantee education free from sexual violence”.
8. The White House said incarcerating trans women in men’s prisons is unconstitutional
The US Department of Justice made a statement in a legal brief about Ashley Diamond, a trans woman who is suing the state of Georgia after being repeated sexually assaulted and denied healthcare while in men’s prisons. The DOJ said the Eighth Amendment “requires prison officials to conduct individualised assessments that lead to reasonable safe conditions of confinement and adequate medical care for all prisoners”.
The statement also added that housing inmates in facilities that do not aligned with their gender identity puts incarcerated trans women under “substantial risk of serious harm”.
9. Biden was the first president to mark Trans Day of Visibility.
Biden made history by becoming the first sitting president to formally mark International Trans Day of Visibility on 31 March. He said in a presidential proclamation that he wanted to honour and celebrate “the achievements and resiliency of transgender individuals and communities”. Biden also called on Americans to “join in the fight for full equality for all transgender people”.
He also applauded the work of heroic trans people to give countless other transgender individuals the “bravery to live openly and authentically”. Biden said this “hard-fought progress” helped shape an “increasingly accepting world in which peers at school, teammates and coaches on the playing field, colleagues at work and allies” are “standing in support and solidarity with the transgender community”.
10. Pride flags on the same flagpole as the US flag.
Secretary of state Anthony Blinken authorised US diplomatic outposts worldwide to fly both flags from the same pole, overturning a 2019 Trump-era ban. The directive removed the ban, and consulate bosses will be able to decide if they want to fly the LGBT+ flag.
Such symbols of solidarity with the LGBT+ community will be based on what is “appropriate in light of local conditions”, Blinken’s directive said . It will take into account the Pride flag might not be looked upon favourably in countries and regions that look down on LGBT+ rights.
But Biden has yet to fulfill his promises on the Equality Act anti-trans violence
The Equality Act is Biden’s most prominent promise to push forward LGBT+ rights in the US. The landmark legislation would grant LGBT+ people full protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It would also substantially expand the areas to which those discrimination protections apply.
The legislation did pass through the House 224-206 in February, with all Democrats and all but three Republicans supporting it. However, the Equality Act’s fate in the closely divided Senate is uncertain, and the legislation has stalled in advancing further in recent months.
President Joe Biden also pledged to direct federal resources towards preventing violence against trans women of color. Biden promised that he would direct his administration to update the FBI’s crime and homicide reports to include sexuality and gender identity or expression. This would help law enforcement fully measure the extent of crimes against the trans community as often violent crimes go unreported or underreported.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reported at least 44 transgender or gender non-conforming people died in 2020 by violent means, the majority being trans people of colour. It was the highest recorded number of deaths of trans and gender non-conforming people since the HRC began tracking this violence in 2013.
However, there has been little movement on furthering protections for trans people of colour. Sadly, the HRC said there have been at least 16 violent deaths of trans or gender non-conforming people in 2021.