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Just a week after Election Day, President-elect Joe Biden is doubling down on promises made to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Americans during his campaign and signaling his intent to reverse course from the Trump administration, which was marked by several rollbacks in LGBTQ rights.
“The president-elect and the vice president-elect put together the most comprehensive plan to advance equality here at home and abroad ever put forth by a presidential ticket, and as a result it lays out a pretty strong blueprint on what the incoming administration can do,” Reggie Greer, the Biden team’s LGBTQ engagement director, told NBC News.
That ambitious platform includes pledges to enact the Equality Act, reinstate Obama-era guidelines preventing anti-LGBTQ discrimination in areas like federal contracts, fight against broad carve-outs in antidiscrimination law on the basis of religious beliefs, end the transgender military ban, and eliminate LGBTQ youth homelessness.
Biden has also set a goal of ending the HIV epidemic — which disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men as well as transgender women — by 2025, five years ahead of the goal set by President Donald Trump during his State of the Union address this year.
Making good on every goal is unlikely, as it is with any broad platform, but the Biden team is confident in their ability to enact major reforms. Greer said signing into law the Equality Act, federal legislation that would add LGBTQ protections to existing federal civil rights law, is a “top priority regardless of Senate control.”
“President-elect Biden and the vice president-elect have spent their entire careers forging bipartisan coalitions to get bills through the Congress,” he said. “They have relationships that will assist in advancing protections for LGBTQ+ people broadly.”
The outcome of that and similar battles could rest on Georgia’s two Senate seats: One has not yet been called by NBC News, and the other is headed for a Jan. 5 runoff. The Equality Act has already passed the House, but it has been held up without a vote by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Diverse transition team announced
Before any bipartisan agreement can even be attempted, Biden must strategize how to run a country facing a pandemic, a beleaguered economy and an electorate deeply divided along partisan lines.
Because President Trump has not yet conceded the election, the General Services Administration — the agency in charge of handling the transition from one administration to the next — has yet to recognize Biden as the winner. Still, Biden has said he will push ahead, and he has already begun to meet with advisers.
To that end, Biden announced his transition team on Tuesday, with a press release stating “40 percent represent communities historically underrepresented in the federal government, including people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities.”
One particularly notable LGBTQ member is Shawn Skelly, named as part of the Department of Defense advisory team. Skelly became the first transgender veteran appointed by a president when she joined the Obama administration in 2013.
The Victory Institute, an organization that advances LGBTQ elected officials, has partnered with around 30 other LGBTQ advocacy and allied organizations, like AIDS United, Human Rights Campaign and the Transgender Law Center, to compile a list of qualified LGBTQ candidates for the Biden transition team’s consideration for appointments and is hopeful this trend of diverse representation continues.
“Joe Biden has made clear that he wants the next administration to be reflective of the diversity of America,” Elliot Imse, the institute’s director of communications, told NBC News. “And we know that Biden believes LGBTQ people are an important part of that diverse America. So, we expect the next administration to appoint more LGBTQ people to political positions than ever before, and we hope that it is also the most diverse group of LGBTQ appointees in American history.”
The list has yet to be made public, but Imse did share several names of those they intend to put forward to the Biden team, including former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, for ambassador to the United Nations; Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., to head up Health and Human Services; Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s secretary of health, for either the Health and Human Services secretary or surgeon general; and Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., for secretary of Veterans Affairs.
The Victory Institute has asked the Biden administration to appoint at least one LGBTQ person to a Senate-confirmed Cabinet position, which would be a first, as former acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell was not put through the confirmation process.
In a recent interview with Philadelphia Gay News, Biden would not commit to appointing an LGBTQ person for a Cabinet position, instead saying simply that he would nominate and appoint federal officials and judges that represent the diversity of America, including LGBTQ individuals.
Additionally, the Victory Institute has said it wishes to see the appointment of the first LGBTQ Supreme Court justice, which Imse admitted is a “bold goal.”
“There are a lot of things to consider when appointing a justice, but there are plenty of openly LGBTQ people qualified to lead on the Supreme Court,” he said.
The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, has also released its big list of asks from the incoming administration, called “The Blueprint for Positive Change 2020.” The guidance was released on Wednesday morning, and it, too, includes a call to appoint an LGBTQ Supreme Court justice, as well as LGBTQ federal judges, executive officials and ambassadors.
HRC is also calling on the Biden-Harris administration to end the debunked practice of conversion therapy, which aims to change someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
According to LGBTQ youth advocacy group The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, 10 percent of LGBTQ youth reported undergoing conversion therapy, with those who had done so reporting more than twice the rate of attempting suicide in the past year compared to those who did not.
“A major way to end LGBTQ youth suicide would be to end conversion therapy, so I truly hope that President-elect Biden puts that plan into practice,” Sam Brinton, the organization’s vice president of advocacy and government affairs, said.
Brinton said they hope to see Biden advance this goal through educating the public that conversion therapy remains an ongoing problem, preventing federal funding from going to it, and encouraging its ban globally.
The LGBTQ platform put forward by Biden includes a pledge to ban conversion therapy by working to enact the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would prevent its commercial practice, with a note that the Obama-Biden administration supported legislative efforts to ban it as well.
HRC’s blueprint also calls for establishing interagency working group to address anti-transgender violence and to protect LGBTQ rights abroad.
Biden’s LGBTQ platform also includes a promise to ensure asylum laws protect those fleeing prosecution, after the Trump administration sought to make it harder for them to do so, and addresses support for the trans community in a number of ways.
Support for the transgender community
During his acceptance speech Saturday night, Biden made history as the first president-elect to thank transgender people.
It was reminiscent of his exchange with the mother of a transgender child during a town hall in October, where he promised to fight against anti-trans discrimination, saying there should be “zero discrimination.”
Biden has addressed the issue throughout the campaign, and his platform includes a plan to work toward ending the epidemic of anti-transgender fatal violence, which this year has hit an all-time reported high, according to HRC, which has been tracking trans deaths since 2013.
Part of that initiative is a focus on seeing the proposed Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019 passed and signed into law, which would expand LGBTQ protections, including for transgender inmates.
The platform also says a Biden administration would include LGBTQ status in federal data collection to help better track anti-LGBTQ violence, in part by updating the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports Supplementary Homicide Reports to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
Additionally, the platform includes strengthening enforcement of the federal hate crimes law, The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, by increasing funding for anti-bias and hate crimes investigation training.
A sense of hope
While no administration can expect to achieve all it endeavors to accomplish, many in the community seem to be breathing easier with the prospect of a Biden-Harris administration taking up residency in the White House come January.
The transgender activist, writer and artist Lara Americo told NBC News she was encouraged by Biden's mention of the trans community during his acceptance speech, saying it reminded her of when the Justice Department under the Obama administration challenged North Carolina’s House Bill 2, a so-called bathroom bill that would have prevented trans people from using public facilities that align with their gender identity.
“I think while they’re probably going to disappoint us about certain things here and there, I’m very hopeful that it will at the very least be as good as it was when Obama was in office,” Americo said of her hopes for LGBTQ policy under a Biden administration.
Brinton is similarly optimistic.
“It is powerful both to see a president using the word ‘transgender’ in their victory speech and a vice president who has openly supported LGBTQ youth for years,” Brinton said. “I'm looking forward to them using their words and their actions in tandem to save LGBTQ life.”