Week 27: January 25, 2020
Biden started his presidency purposefully, with 17 executive orders signed on the first day. During his long campaign, Biden made many promises for change that we must now hold him accountable too. Among those first 17 executive orders was an order that serves to “Prevent and Combat Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.” We will discuss Biden’s history concerning the LGBTQ+ community, the promises he made during his campaign, and what this executive order means for the United States.
When Biden was first elected as a Senator in 1979, he was not a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights. In the 90s he voted in favor of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a policy that kicked 14,500 people out of the military because of their sexuality. He also voted in support of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which would legally define marriage to be only between a man and a woman, among other homophobic and transphobic policies. When Biden became vice president, neither he nor Obama openly supported LGBTQ+ rights, including legalizing same-sex marriage. It wasn’t until an interview in 2012 that Biden publicly declared his support for same-sex marriage (Obama followed a few days later).
above: the white house lit in rainbow lights to celebrate the passage of the same-sex marriage act under President Obama in 2015
Vice President Harris has a more positive track record of supporting gay rights. As attorney general, she refused to defend California’s ban on same-sex marriage and then officiated the first same-sex wedding after the ban was struck down by the Supreme Court. Her history relating to trans rights is more complicated and disputed. She has, however, affirmed that she has always worked for policy that supported trans people behind the scenes, even when she was not able to openly support it.
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden has always strongly supported LGBTQ+ rights. She spoke out against school bullying and discrimination even before Joe publicly supported gay rights, and has continued to be a proud ally to the LGBTQ+ community.
Regardless of his initial position, for the past eight years, President Biden has been a firm supporter of LGBTQ+ rights. At one point, as the highest-ranking Democrat to support LGBTQ+ rights, his position helped shift the party’s stance on the issue. Biden is the first president in United States history to enter the White House as a supporter of gay rights, and his diverse cabinet and executive action show he is dedicated to furthering equality.
Additionally, Biden has pledged to sign the Equality Act into law within the first 100 days of being in office, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the existing anti-discrimination framework in the Civil Rights Act. While many activists have praised Biden’s actions so far, many fear the conservatively dominated Supreme Court will slow down, if not stop progress.
The Biden administration’s open support of the queer community, in addition to their policies, is incredibly important and meaningful. As violence against LGBTQ+ people increased during Trump’s occupancy, the steps Biden has taken to affirm the government’s support of LGBTQ+ rights are helping to usher in a new era of acceptance and hope.