President Biden Acknowledges Trans Youth in Address to Congress

US President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress as Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi applaud.
Chip Somodevilla/Pool via REUTERS

President Joe Biden pledged his support for transgender youth during his first address to a joint session of Congress on April 28.

“To all transgender Americans watching at home, especially the young people, who are so brave, I want you to know your president has your back,” Biden said from the US Capitol in Washington DC.

The comprehensive speech touched on numerous points, including the president’s plan to provide aid to cash-strapped workers, children, and students through the American Families Plan, a $1.8 trillion program expanding education access, childcare, and paid leave policies. The president also reflected on his first 100 days in office and denounced the violent attacks at the Capitol in January.

Biden’s comments were made against the backdrop of growing anti-trans legislation in the US targeting trans youth in sports and healthcare. Just hours before the president’s address, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed a bill preventing transgender women and girls, as well as some non-binary individuals, from participating in school sports. Florida’s State Legislature passed a similar ban on trans athletes at a high school and college level.

With Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sitting behind him, the president also urged Congress to pass the Equality Act, a federal bill backed by more than 400 businesses that would enshrine comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across the country. The bill has been introduced in the Senate, but appears unlikely to move at a time when the upper chamber is too divided. Ahead of the president’s address, Stella Keating, the first transgender teen to testify before the US Senate during the Equality Act hearing last month, joined First Lady Jill Biden in a virtual talk about transgender rights.

LGBTQ groups are praising Biden for standing behind the transgender community.

“The President laid out a broad agenda that would improve the lives of diverse LGBTQ people in this country in so many ways,”  Kierra Johnson, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said in a written statement. “From the $15 national minimum wage to the infrastructure bill and the new American Families Bill, police reform, the expansion of hate crimes protections, gun control, voting rights and protecting our democracy and more.”

Kasey Suffredini, CEO and national campaign director of Freedom for All Americans, a bipartisan campaign to help secure LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, hopes more politicians can follow Biden’s lead.

“President Biden’s endorsement of the Equality Act in his first presidential address is a historic milestone, and the latest indicator of the momentum LGBTQ advocates and allies have built to pass this landmark legislation over the past 50 years,” Suffredini said in a written statement. “President Biden has long been a passionate supporter of LGBTQ rights, even when other elected officials avoided taking a stance. The truth is millions of LGBTQ Americans and their loved ones are still vulnerable to discrimination in most of the U.S. because of an unsustainable patchwork of varying protections in different states.”

Suffredini added, “Treating all people fairly is not a Democratic or a Republican value – it’s an American value, and it will move our country closer to our ideals of liberty and justice for all.”

PFLAG, an organization providing support to LGBTQ families, commended the president as well.

“We are grateful to President Biden for his unwavering support of our LGBTQ+ loved ones,” PFLAG National Executive Director Brian K. Bond said in a written statement. “His commitment to passing the Equality Act—critical legislation that would modernize our nation’s civil rights laws by including explicit protections for LGBTQ people, as well as improve protections for women, people of color, people with different national origins, and people of all faiths—has meant so much to our families. We are also moved by his vocal support of our trans kids, whose rights and very lives have been under assault with hundreds of dangerous and damaging bills in 33 states across this country.”

Kai Shappley, a 10-year-old transgender girl who recently delivered remarks in front of the Texas State Senate Committee on State Affairs, expressed cautious optimism in response to Biden’s remarks.

“I’m very thankful for this,” Shappley wrote on Twitter. “But, what does having my back mean? Like, if the bills pass in Texas will you keep them from putting my mom in jail?”

Some intersex advocates, however, noted that Biden’s speech did not mention the intersex community, which has overwhelmingly faced erasure in political conversations despite calls for increased awareness on a local and national level.

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