Biden Is Returning the U.S. to an Era of LGBTQ Inclusion: “America’s Strength Is Found in Its Diversity”

In his first 100 days, Biden is expected to take more actions towards reversing many of the Trump administration’s attacks on LGBTQ people, as well as expanding LGBTQ rights and protections.

Biden Is Returning the U.S. to an Era of LGBTQ Inclusion: "America's Strength Is Found in Its Diversity"
Biden speaks at the LGBTQ Presidential Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, on September 20, 2019. (Adam Schultz / Biden for President)

On Monday, in a landmark executive order applauded by LGBTQ advocates and organizations, President Joe Biden repealed the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people in the military. In a release, the White House stated, “President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America’s strength is found in its diversity.” 

Importantly, the order will permit access to gender-affirming care for the estimated 15,500 transgender adults currently serving in the U.S. military (including 8,800 on active duty and 6,700 in the National Guard or Reserves).

Specifically, Biden’s executive order prohibits “involuntary separations, discharges, and denials of reenlistment or continuation of service on the basis of gender identity or under circumstances relating to gender identity.” This list initially raised questions, since it does not explicitly mention new enlistments by trans people—leading some to question whether new enlistees could be subject to discrimination. But on Monday afternoon, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin clarified: “Prospective recruits may serve in their self-identified gender when they have met the appropriate standards for accession into the military services.”

The initial ban was announced on July 26, 2017, by Donald Trump via Twitter. Prominent LGBTQ advocacy orgs decried the action, calling it an attack on the rights of transgender Americans—a theme that would span the Trump presidency, which also reversed transgender health protections just last summer, among a multitude of other actions intended to curtail the rights of transgender people in the U.S.

Biden’s LGBTQ Agenda

In his first 100 days, Biden is expected to take more actions towards reversing many of the Trump administration’s attacks on LGBTQ people, as well as expanding LGBTQ rights and protections. To this end, one of his first day executive actions was to rescind the Trump administration’s restrictions on diversity, equity and inclusion training and policy, which denied the existence of systemic racism. 

In another Day 1 action, Biden signed an executive order enforcing the decision affirmed by the Supreme Court in last summer’s Bostock v. Clayton County, which bars workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity—a decision which the Trump administration had refused to enforce. 

(Biden’s actions prompted bad-faith backlash from some who claimed the EO opened the door to ending “single-sex spaces” and was “erasing women”—when in reality, as the order itself stated, it represents a commitment to enforcing the protections already ruled in Bostock.)


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Biden’s appointments to leadership positions have also reflected a commitment to LGBTQ representation in government. With the appointments of Karine Jean-Pierre as principal deputy press secretary and Dr. Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health, and the expected appointment of Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary, the Biden administration is shaping up a team that grows closer to representing LGBTQ Americans in the halls of power. 

Biden Is Returning the U.S. to an Era of LGBTQ Inclusion: "America's Strength Is Found in Its Diversity"
Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaking to the press, Harrisburg, Pa., in March 2020. (Wikimedia Commons)

What’s Next?

LGBTQ advocates are continuing to push for the passage of the Equality Act—which would grant LGBTQ people nondiscrimination protections by expanding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections based on gender identity and sexual orientation. 

A version of the act was introduced in the 1970’s, but traction has been growing in recent years and many advocates believe that 2021 is the year the act has a real chance of passing. Biden has vowed to pass the act in his first 100 days—which would require strong bipartisan support. 

Trans Rights at Risk in 2021

While many are celebrating Biden’s executive order, and his generally pro-LGBTQ agenda, 2021 is already shaping up to be a tough year for LGBTQ legal advocates. Currently, at least 14 states are proposing legislation that seeks to curtail the rights of trans youth to access health care, or prevent trans girls from participating in sports (we’re keeping track of those bills over here).

On the national level, legislators in both the House and Senate have introduced their own “Protect Women’s Sports Acts,” which, as with corresponding acts in state legislatures, would ban primarily trans girls (though some include all trans students) from participating on sports teams that match their gender at the secondary and collegiate levels.

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About

Oliver Haug is a social media editor and podcast producer with Ms. magazine. They are also a freelance journalist, focusing on LGBTQ+ issues and sexual politics. Their writing has previously appeared in Bitch Magazine, them.us, the New York Times' newsletter "The Edit," and elsewhere. You can read more of their work at oliverhaug.contently.com, and follow them on Twitter @cohaug.