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Biden Plans to Protect LGBTQ Rights    11/28 08:36

   Biden is making sweeping promises to LGBTQ activists, proposing to carry out 
virtually every major proposal on their wish lists. 

   As vice president in 2012, Joe Biden endeared himself to many LGBTQ 
Americans by endorsing same-sex marriage even before his boss, President Barack 
Obama.

   Now, as president-elect, Biden is making sweeping promises to LGBTQ 
activists, proposing to carry out virtually every major proposal on their wish 
lists. Among them: Lifting the Trump administration's near-total ban on 
military service for transgender people, barring federal contractors from 
anti-LGBTQ job discrimination, and creating high-level LGBTQ-rights positions 
at the State Department, the National Security Council and other federal 
agencies.

   In many cases the measures would reverse executive actions by President 
Donald Trump, whose administration took numerous steps to weaken protections 
for transgender people and create more leeway for discrimination against LGBTQ 
people, ostensibly based on religious grounds.

   In a policy document, the Biden campaign said Trump and Vice President Mike 
Pence "have given hate against LGBTQ+ individuals safe harbor and rolled back 
critical protections."

   Beyond executive actions he can take unilaterally, Biden says his top 
legislative priority for LGBTQ issues is the Equality Act, passed by the House 
of Representatives last year but stalled in the Senate. It would extend to all 
50 states the comprehensive anti-bias protections already afforded to LGBTQ 
people in 21 mostly Democratic-governed states, covering such sectors as 
housing, public accommodations and public services.

   Biden says he wants the act to become law within 100 days of taking office, 
but its future remains uncertain. Assuming the bill passes again in the House, 
it would need support from several Republicans in the Senate, even if the 
Democrats gain control by winning two runoff races in Georgia. For now, Susan 
Collins of Maine is the only GOP co-sponsor in the Senate.

   Critics, including prominent religious conservatives, say the bill raises 
religious freedom concerns and could require some faith-based organizations to 
operate against their beliefs.

   The Equality Act "is a dangerous game changer" in its potential federal 
threat to religious liberty, said the Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the 
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

   Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican, tried to strike a compromise last 
year that would have expanded LGBTQ rights nationwide while allowing exemptions 
for religious groups to act on beliefs that could exclude LGBTQ people. His 
proposal won support from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and 
the Seventh-day Adventist Church but was panned by liberal and civil rights 
groups.

   "Anti-equality forces are trying to use the framework of religious liberty 
to strip away individual rights," said Alphonso David, president of the Human 
Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ-rights organization.

   Among the actions that Biden pledges to take unilaterally, scrapping Trump's 
transgender military ban would be among the most notable.

   Jennifer Levi, a Massachusetts-based transgender-rights lawyer, said it's 
clear Biden has the authority to do so after taking office.

   Nicolas Talbott, a transgender man whom Levi has represented in a lawsuit 
seeking to overturn the ban, called that "a huge relief."

   "I look forward to being allowed to re-enroll in ROTC so I can continue to 
train, keep up my fitness to serve, and become the best Army officer I can 
possibly be," Talbott said via email.

   Some of Biden's other promises:

   --- Appoint an array of LGBTQ people to federal government positions. 
There's wide expectation that Biden will nominate an LGBTQ person to a Cabinet 
post, with former presidential contender Pete Buttigieg among the possibilities.

   --- Reverse Trump administration policies carving out religious exemptions 
allowing discrimination against LGBTQ people by social service agencies, health 
care providers, adoption and foster care agencies and other entities.

   --- Reinstate Obama administration guidance directing public schools to 
allow transgender students to access bathrooms, locker rooms and sports teams 
in accordance with their gender identity. The Trump administration revoked this 
guidance.

   --- Allocate federal resources to help curtail violence against transgender 
people, particularly transgender women of color. Rights groups say at least 38 
transgender or gender-nonconforming people have been killed in the U.S. this 
year.

   --- Support legislative efforts to ban so-called conversion therapy for 
LGBTQ minors.

   --- Bolster federal efforts to collect comprehensive data about LGBTQ people 
in the U.S. by adding questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to 
national surveys.

   --- Ensure that LGBTQ rights are a priority for U.S. foreign policy and be 
prepared to use pressure tactics, including sanctions, against foreign 
governments violating those rights.

   Whatever happens in Washington, some activists worry that 
Republican-controlled state legislatures may push anti-LGBTQ bills, such as 
curtailing the ability of transgender youth to access certain medical 
treatments or participate in school sports. They are also concerned that an 
influx of conservative federal judges appointed by Trump might lead to rulings 
allowing religious exemptions.

   Earlier this month the Supreme Court --- now with a solid conservative 
majority --- heard arguments on whether a Catholic social services agency in 
Philadelphia should be able to turn away same-sex couples who want to be foster 
parents, while still receiving local government funding.

   Tim Schultz, a religious freedom advocate, outlined two potential paths for 
the debate over the Equality Act: "ongoing legislative gridlock, regulatory 
trench warfare and judicial decisions, which will happen independently of what 
the president does," or active engagement by Biden for a new strategy that can 
win bipartisan support in the Senate.

   The first path would provide only "temporary satisfaction," given that 
regulatory moves can be undone by future presidents, said Schultz, president of 
the nonprofit 1st Amendment Partnership.

   Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, 
cited Biden's campaign-trail appeals for unity --- and his commitment to faith 
outreach --- as positive signs for more engagement on the issue next year.

   "He and his team will be very well-positioned to broker compromise if they 
want to, to get this done," said Diament, who has advised both the Trump and 
Obama administrations.

   ___

   Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment 
through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this 
content.

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