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
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
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
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
"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
--- 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
--- Support legislative efforts to ban so-called conversion therapy for
--- Bolster federal efforts to collect comprehensive data about LGBTQ people
in the U.S. by adding questions about sexual orientation and gender identity to
--- 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
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