What to Expect From a Biden Presidency: On LGBTQ+ Equality

Editor’s note: President-Elect Biden’s platform for women promises to be the most ambitious presidential agenda yet addressing issues that affect women and girls in the U.S. and around the globe. This piece is the third of a multi-part series covering the agenda, in areas including: health careeconomic securitywork and familyviolence and security and the Equal Rights Amendment, among others. Get caught up here.

President-Elect Joe Biden has pledged to pursue an aggressive plan to advance LGBTQ+ equality in the U.S. and around the world. After four years of the Trump administration rolling back LGBTQ+ rights at home and abroad, Biden has his work cut out for him.

What to Expect From a Biden Presidency: On LGBTQ+ Equality
A February 2017 assembly in front of the White House to protest the non-science based policy of segregating LGBTQ children in public schools based on the schools’ determination of their gender identity. (Ted Eytan / Flickr)

Trump has devastated LGBTQ+ rights in the United States over the last four years.

  • His administration has denied LGBTQ+ people access to critical health care and refused to implement the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, ruling that employment discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
  • They have blocked transgender people from serving openly in the military and failed to address the epidemic of violence against transgender people—particularly transgender women of color.
  • They have proposed policies allowing federally funded homeless shelters to refuse to serve transgender people and adoption agencies to reject same-sex couples.
  • Trump has also severely limited the ability of members of the LGBTQ+ community from qualifying for asylum and blocked the advancement of global LGBTQ+ rights. 

President-Elect Joe Biden has pledged to reverse course and pursue an aggressive plan to advance LGBTQ+ equality in the U.S. and around the world. After four years of the Trump administration rolling back LGBTQ+ rights at home and abroad, Biden has his work cut out for him.

What to Expect From a Biden Presidency: On LGBTQ+ Equality
Joe Biden speaking at the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 15, 2018. Biden’s father told a young Joe: “It’s simple, they love each other.” (Ted Eytan / Flickr)

Biden has a strong record on LGBTQ+ equality:

  • He was an early supporter of marriage equality, he fought for health care protections for LGBTQ+ people in the Affordable Care Act, and he helped pass a federal hate crimes law to enhance penalties for crimes targeting LGBTQ+ people.
  • He fought for repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that discriminationed against gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the military.
  • He championed funding and programs to address violence against LGBTQ+ people in the 2013 Violence Against Women Act Re-Authorization.
  • To help youth, he participated in the “It Gets Better” campaign in 2010 and the “As You Are” campaign, which promoted understanding and acceptance among LGBTQ+ youth and their families.
  • Biden was also an early supporter of HIV/AIDS resources and helped launch the first comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy.

Biden has clearly demonstrated his commitment to addressing LGBTQ+ rights.

In his plan to advance LGBTQ+ equality, Biden has pledged that he will “provide the moral leadership to champion equal rights for all LGBTQ+ people, fight to ensure our laws and institutions protect and enforce their rights, and advance LGBTQ+ equality globally.”

Biden’s plan includes:

  • protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination;
  • supporting LGBTQ+ youth;
  • protecting LGBTQ+ individuals from violence;
  • expanding access to high-quality health care for LGBTQ+ individuals;
  • ensuring fair treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals in the criminal justice system;
  • collecting data necessary to fully support the LGBTQ+ community; and
  • advancing global LGBTQ+ rights and development.

In these ways, Biden will move the U.S. toward a government-wide focus on uplifting of LGBTQ+ people at home and abroad.

Protecting LGBTQ+ People From Discrimination

LGBTQ+ people still face discrimination in nearly every aspect of their lives, including employment, military service, starting a family and obtaining a driver’s license with their accurate gender marker. To address these violations, Biden has pledged to use his executive authority to immediately reverse the discriminatory actions of the Trump administration and then go further to end discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals and provide resources to assist members of the community. 

To do this, Biden has pledged to use his executive power to reaffirm that the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as the Supreme Court ruled in the Bostock decision, and then work to implement the Bostock decision across the federal government by fully funding and appointing strong leadership to the federal agencies responsible for enforcing the law.

He will restore President Obama’s executive order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors and requiring implicit bias training programs for federal workers and contractors to address discrimination, and he will end the misuse of broad religious exemptions by businesses, medical providers, social service agencies, state and local government officials, and others that allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. 

In his plan to advance LGBTQ+ equality, Biden has pledged to “provide the moral leadership to champion equal rights for all LGBTQ+ people, fight to ensure our laws and institutions protect and enforce their rights, and advance LGBTQ+ equality globally.” (Ted Eytan / Flickr)

For transgender people, Biden pledges to provide workforce and entrepreneurial training programs and resources, to expand access to accurate identification documents to enable transgender people to affirm their gender markers, and to reverse Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military.

To support families, he will repeal the Trump administration rule that, if enacted, will permit adoption and foster care agencies that discriminate against LGBTQ+ families to receive government funding, and he will reinstate protections for LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness.

In Congress, Biden has pledged to support passage of the Equality Act to explicitly provide protections for LGBTQ+ people in civil rights law, including employment, housing, education, credit, public accommodations, juries, and federal funding. He also supports legislation to protect LGBTQ+ seniors from discrimination by championing passage of the Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act.

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Supporting LGBTQ Youth

Biden promises to ensure that LGBTQ youth feel safe, valued, and protected both at school and at home. When the Trump administration took office in 2016, they made it their first priority to roll back an Obama-era policy allowing transgender students access to the bathroom of their choosing. Biden has pledged to reverse this policy on his first day in the oval office so that all students have safe access to the bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams that match their gender identity. 

A February 2017 assembly in front of the White House in support of trans youth. (Ted Eytan / Flickr)

Biden also pledges to address the high rates of sexual assault, harassment and bullying of LGBTQ+ students, who experience trauma and suicidal thoughts at five times the rate of their heterosexual peers. Biden’s administration will focus on funding suicide prevention programs, as well as increased access to mental health services inside of schools, particularly for low-income LGBTQ+ students.

In addition, Biden will fund programs to address the disproportionate rates of discipline targeted at LBGTQ+ students, students of color, and students with disabilities through a holistic approach to juvenile justice reform and prevention. To do this, Biden will invest $1 billion per year in juvenile justice reform in schools and at the state level.

To address youth homeless, which disproportionately impacts LGBTQ+ youth, Biden supports passing the Ending Homelessness Act, which would provide a holistic approach to ending homelessness among marginalized citizens.

Finally, Biden pledges to protect the 75,000 LGBTQ+ Dreamers, 36,000 of whom are DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) participants. Trump terminated DACA, but Biden has pledged to reinstate the DACA program and work for immigration legislation that will provide a roadmap to citizenship for Dreamers and their parents. 

Protecting LGBTQ+ People from Violence

President-elect Biden has pledged to protect LGBTQ+ people from violence in their homes, communities and when coming into this country. To do this, Biden seeks to include sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination protections in the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act reauthorization and supports permanent funding for the National LGBTQ Institute on IPV to prevent and address LGBTQ+ intimate partner violence. 

To address hate crimes, Biden promises to enforce and strengthen the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act by increasing funding for anti-bias and hate crimes investigation training. To improve hate crime reporting and data collection, Biden supports passing the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act and updating the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports Supplementary Homicide Reports (UCR-SHR) to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

He also pledges to make prosecuting the murderers of transgender women of color a priority and direct federal resources to help prevent violence against transgender women—particularly transgender women of color.

To address bias against LGBTQ+ people in the criminal justice system, Biden will work to pass the End Racial and Religious Profiling Act and create protections for incarcerated transgender individuals. He will also end Trump’s detrimental asylum and immigration policies that discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.

Expand Access to Comprehensive Health Care for LGBTQ Individuals

Biden has pledged to reverse Trump administration policies that discriminate against LGBTQ+ people in accessing health care and to guarantee quality health care free from discrimination, particularly for people living in rural areas.

To increase access to health care, Biden would restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides equitable and competent care for LGBTQ individuals, and expand access to mental health services and suicide prevention services for both LGBTQ adults and youths. He also supports ending price gouging by major pharmaceutical corporations and banning harmful, traumatic and immoral conversion therapy, which is currently legal for minors in 30 states

For people living with HIV/AIDS, Biden promises to implement the Obama-Biden administration’s comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which provides funding for increased access to equitable treatment, testing, and support, as well as PrEP without co-pays. He supports passage of the REAL HIV Discrimination Act, which would reform HIV-specific state laws that criminalize behaviors that cannot transmit HIV and apply regardless of actual transmission, and he would ensure blood donation procedures are based on science rather than bias. 

The Obama-Biden White House illuminated in rainbow colors in celebration of a Supreme Court decision affirming same-sex marriage as a constitutional right in June 2015. (Ted Eytan / Flickr)

Ensuring Fair Treatment of LGBTQ+ People in the Criminal Justice System

LGBTQ+ people often experience discrimination and violence in the US criminal justice system, particularly transgender people. Trump has made this worse. For example, Trump’s Federal Bureau of Prisons instituted a new policy requiring biological sex to be used in housing determinations, putting transgender inmates in serious danger of assault and rape. 

Biden has pledged to reinstate the Obama-Biden administration’s policy of requiring gender identity be considered when making housing assignments. He will also fully implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act, including implementation by the Department of Homeland Security and ensure all transgender inmates in federal correctional facilities have access to appropriate doctors and medical care—including OBGYNs and hormone therapy. 

More generally, Biden pledges to reduce the prison population by funding a $20 billion grant program encouraging states to move from incarceration and toward prevention and rehabilitation; direct the Attorney General to make it a prosecutorial priority to root out and prosecute police misconduct by using pattern or practice investigations and consent decrees; and invest in public defenders and end cash bail so that we can stop jailing people for being unable to pay fines and fees. 

Ensure Accurate Data Collection to Fully Support the LGBTQ+ Community

Accurate data is the first step toward identifying and solving problems faced by LGBTQ+ people. The Trump-Pence administration has attempted to eliminate the collection of data on LGBTQ+ people by federal agencies. Biden will reverse this policy by ensuring that national surveys and federal data collection efforts include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. Along these lines, he supports the LGBTQ Essential Data Act to help collect a wide variety of critical data about anti-trans violence and the factors that drive it. 

Advancing Global LGBTQ+ Rights and Development

Biden has personally spoken out against the brutal and repressive measures against LGBTQ+ people in nations from Chechnya and El Salvador to Malaysia and Uganda.

In Biden’s words:

“Prejudice is prejudice; inhumanity is inhumanity. Using religion or culture to license discrimination and demonizing LGBT individuals to score political points are no more justifiable around the world than they are here at home.” 

To ensure that violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals do not go unchecked, President-elect Biden has pledged to issue a Presidential Memorandum stating his administration’s support for LGBTQ+ human rights and development worldwide. To achieve this goal, Biden will bolster the offices at the State Department and USAID dedicated to promoting global LGBTQ+ rights and development and appoint senior leaders across the government who will champion global equality, including 

  • designate a point person for LGBTQ+ rights on the National Security Council;
  • appoint a Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQ+ Persons at the Department of State; and
  • appoint a Special Coordinator in charge of international LGBTQ+ programming at USAID.

Biden also pledges to lead a coalition of like-minded governments and international organizations to advance protections for LGBTQ+ people, fight for decriminalization of LGBTQ+ identities and relationships, and respond swiftly and meaningfully to threats to LGBTQ+ rights or safety globally.

He promises to aggressively use pressure tactics, as appropriate, including sanctions (such as sanctions and visa bans) to respond to violations  of human rights, including LGBTQ+ rights; to advance culturally appropriate public information campaigns to promote LGBTQ+ human rights and reduce biases; and to support and collaborate with local movements and organizations that are advancing this agenda in their own countries, and work to elevate local voices, examples, and role models. 

With regard to foreign aid, Biden promises to prioritize foreign assistance from USAID and the State Department to strengthen the voice, capacity, and agency of local LGBTQ+ organizations and activists; to screen and evaluate development assistance to ensure it is helping elevate the economic and social status of LGBTQ+ communities; to support PEPFAR programming to engage with LGBTQ+ communities on anti-stigma programs and countering violence and discrimination so that LGBTQ+ individuals are able to access the health care they need without fearing for their own personal safety and security; and to work with Congress to enact legislation—like the GLOBE Act currently before the House—which will permanently make upholding LGBTQ+ rights a priority of the foreign policy of the United States, including addressing discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ individuals.

Biden’s ambitious platform to advance LGBTQ+ equality will go a long way toward reversing the damaging legacy of the Trump-Pence administration and empowering LGBTQ+ people at home and abroad.

While some of these policies require Congressional action—so winning the two Georgia Senate seats is critical—many of the policies Biden can implement within the executive branch without congressional approval. 

And the LGBTQ+ community will be better off as a result.

Get caught up on the prongs of Biden’s women’s agenda.

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About and

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.
Anna Dragunas is a senior at Smith College majoring in the study of women and gender with a certificate in reproductive health, rights and justice.