Biden, Harris Take Office with Long List of LGBTQ Priorities

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible.
Andrew Harnik/Pool via Reuters

The Trump years are over.

With a promise of unity, Joe Biden ushered in a new era in history after he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States on January 20 alongside Kamala Harris, who became the first woman and first Black and Asian American person to become vice president.

“Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation,” Biden said during his inaugural address. “And I ask every American to join me in this cause.”

Biden is launching his presidency with the tall task of confronting the raging coronavirus crisis following a year during which his predecessor ignored the pandemic and fanned the flames of misinformation and hate, leading to 400,000 deaths. Many states — including New York — are immediately turning to the new administration to address their dire need for vaccines and economic support.

The new administration will, of course, also be tasked with eradicating the bigotry that seeped out of an administration that spent four years injecting racism, homophobia, transphobia, religious bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism into the American bloodstream.

Biden announced a slate of 17 wide-ranging executive orders for his first day in office, including a directive demanding that federal agencies follow the Bostock v. Clayton County Supreme Court ruling from June to bring workplace protections to employees on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Among other orders, the new administration is moving to bring the nation back into the Paris Climate agreement, extend student loan relief, end the Muslim travel ban, halt construction of the border wall, and call on Congress to swiftly act on immigration reform.

Biden is also advancing executive orders intended to wipe out the Trump administration’s 1776 commission and re-evaluate racial equity in federal agencies to ensure even distribution of federal funds.

Biden is widely considered to be the most pro-LGBTQ president to enter the White House, but it remains to be seen how quickly he can deliver on change for queer Americans.

A divided Senate will pose major challenges to the Biden agenda, even with a slight Democratic edge — and Harris’ role as a tiebreaker in the upper chamber will place her in a significant position of influence. The incoming administration has vowed to advance the stalled Equality Act, which would build on the June Supreme Court ruling and expand LGBTQ protections beyond employment — but that won’t be easy.

Before Biden begins courting bipartisan support for that measure, he will have to woo conservative Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has opposed the Equality Act. The legislation passed in the House with bipartisan support during the Trump era, but never made it to the Senate.

There is also a need to restore consistent HIV/AIDS funding, which was slashed during the Trump era, and advocates have demanded the repeal of FOSTA-SESTA, a bipartisan law passed in 2018 that was branded as an anti-trafficking bill but wound up having a negative impact on sex workers just as the sex work decriminalization movement heated up.

The new administration will be pressed to refocus efforts on a number of healthcare-related fronts in the face of a deadly pandemic that arrived in the middle of the Democratic Party’s debate over Medicare for All. Biden took heat for taking a more moderate stance on that issue — and he will undoubtedly continue to face pressure as the coronavirus crisis takes its toll on the health of Americans.

Kamala Harris is sworn in as Vice President while her spouse, Doug Emhoff, holds a bible.Saul Loeb/Pool via Reuters

While some legislative priorities could face hurdles, Biden will still be able to act sooner on other queer issues, such as overturning the ban on transgender troops. The Biden administration announced in the days leading up to the inauguration that an executive order reversing that policy would be forthcoming, and Biden’s nominee to run the Pentagon, retired General Lloyd Austin, said prior to the inauguration that he is on board with reversing the ban.

The new administration will also be required to revamp numerous federal agencies after the Trump administration used them as tools to squash the rights of queer Americans — especially transgender folks — and other marginalized groups.

Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services led an effort to strip transgender patients of non-discrimination protections and allow same-sex parents to be rejected from adoption agencies, the Department of Housing and Urban Development sought to restrict the rights of transgender folks seeking emergency shelter, and the Department of Education took aim at protections for transgender students in schools and on playing fields.

The Trump State Department, meanwhile, shattered the Obama administration’s efforts to focus on supporting LGBTQ rights and blew off marriage and immigration laws by rejecting citizenship for children of bi-national same-sex parents.

Biden and Harris have evolved on queer issues over the years. Biden, for example, supported “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman at the federal level, and Harris has a history of opposing trans-affirming care for prison inmates. She has since changed her tune on that front. Harris has also long supported marriage equality and Biden was a pivotal player in the Obama administration’s shift to support same-sex marriage in the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election.

Doug Emhoff, Kamala Harris, Jill Biden, and Joe Biden stand together before the inauguration.Reuters/Mike Segar

Following the inauguration, queer groups expressed hope that the new administration would be an ally in the fight for LGBTQ rights.

“It’s a new day in America,” Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings said in a written statement. “The Biden-Harris administration is already poised to usher in a new era for LGBTQ+ people, not only by undoing the devastation wrought by Trump’s policies, but by pioneering and championing unprecedented efforts that send an important signal to LGBTQ+ people everywhere: That we deserve fair treatment, equitable representation, freedom from discrimination, and equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

Athlete Ally, an organization that defended LGBTQ athletes in the face of the Trump administration’s transphobic bid to sideline transgender student-athletes, also welcomed the new president and vice president.

“Today’s inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the president and vice president marks a moment of hope for LGBTQI+ athletes and those that fight alongside them for equality,” Anne Lieberman, director of policy and programs at Athlete Ally, said in a written statement. “No child should have to fight every day to simply be respected as a human being. For the past four years, the Trump Administration terrorized marginalized youth, especially Black Transgender girls, perpetuated bigotry, and inflamed division for kids who only want to play sports with their peers.”

Immigration Equality, a nationwide organization that has worked to support LGBTQ immigrants, offered a short and direct message to the incoming administration.

Writing on Twitter, the organization stated, “Let’s send a message to the incoming administration: WE SUPPORT QUEER & TRANS IMMIGRANTS!”

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