For a lot of LGBTQ+ Americans, Joe Biden is the man who fueled the marriage equality movement in its final stretch. His 2012 announcement that he supported same-sex marriage forced President Barack Obama to publicly endorse marriage equality ahead of his reelection campaign. The nation ostensibly followed suit.
LGBTQ+ rights advocates have hailed the vice president and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, as the “most pro-equality ticket in history.” That’s a stark contrast with President Donald Trump, said Zeke Stokes, former vice president of GLAAD.
“We’ve seen from Trump more than 175 attacks on our community in policy and rhetoric since he took office, and it literally started on day one when all mentions of LGBTQ people and issues were removed from the White House website,” said Stokes. “We now are going to have to spend an enormous amount of energy reversing the damage that’s been done by this president.”
It’s not website updates that have LGBTQ+ leaders concerned, however. Some argue that the president’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies and appointments have set advancements back by more than just his four years in office. And the prospect of a Biden presidency sets up unprecedented challenges and precious opportunity when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights.
Trump has barred transgender people from openly serving in the military, rolled back protections for trans students, flat-funded HIV/AIDS work globally and pushed for exemptions that would allow health care providers to refuse care to transgender people and those with HIV/AIDS. He barred U.S. embassies from flying pride flags, typically done in June to mark global Pride Month.
The Trump administration also outlawed the words “transgender” and “diversity” in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, and stopped data collection for LGBTQ+ kids in foster care.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protected LGBTQ+ workers against discrimination. The ruling is expected to have far-reaching implications beyond the workplace, because it found that sex discrimination includes protections for people who are gay and transgender. However, the Trump administration has largely not enforced the rule.
In July, more than 100 members of Congress called on the president to direct federal agencies to review and rescind at least 32 anti-LGBTQ+ regulations and executive orders that hinge on his administration’s understanding that Title VII does not protect LGBTQ+ people.
In other words, a Biden administration would have a lot of work ahead just to bring the country in compliance with the law.
In March, Biden released a plan to reverse Trump’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies and move the community forward. The plan commits to passing the Equality Act, which would add anti-discrimination protections to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also specifically addresses Trump administration policies that LGBTQ+ organizations say are hostile.
Biden has also pledged to make it easier for trans people to update their government-issued IDs, including obtaining gender-neutral passports. That proposal comes in the wake of a five-year battle between intersex Navy veteran Dana Zzyym and Trump’s Department of Justice, which has repeatedly refused to issue Zzyym a passport with an “X” gender marker, despite court orders.
Biden has also promised to combat what many say is a crisis of violence facing Black trans women. With more three months left to go, more transgender people have been murdered in 2020 than any year in recorded history. Biden also says he will tackle employment and housing discrimination, two critical areas that leave many exposed to violence and survival crimes, advocates say.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has actively embraced policies supporting workplace discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. His administration is working toward policy that would allow homeless shelters to turn transgender people away.
Reggie Greer, LGBTQ+ vote director for the Biden campaign, said Biden and Harris are keenly aware of how Trump administration rollbacks have hurt LGBTQ+ people.
“A Biden-Harris administration will consider every tool available to reverse Trump’s damaging policies and restore and advance critical protections, equality and equity for the LGBTQ+ community,” he said in a statement to The 19th. “When the history books are written, I am certain that advancing LGBTQ+ equality will be one of the Biden-Harris administration’s top achievements.”
Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, said that many anti-LGBTQ+ policies can be quickly reversed. Trump made many changes via executive order. In June, the president signed an order that allows religious government-funded adoption agencies to turn away LGBTQ+ couples. A new president need only write a new order to undo that measure.
That, however, won’t fix everything in the eyes of advocates.
Shelby Chestnut, director of policy and programs at the Transgender Law Center, said that work won’t be easy — and some of it may be out of the White House’s control. Emboldened by the administration, states introduced more than 200 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, many of them targeting affirming health care and participation in sports for transgender children.
Idaho passed two such laws in March — one that barred trans people from updating the gender on their birth certificates and another that banned transgender girls from participating in school athletics with other girls. However, both laws were struck down in the courts. A federal district court in Idaho said that Lambda Legal had already sued and won on behalf of trans clients seeking updated birth certificates, and a federal judge concluded that the state had no interest in barring trans girls from athletics.
Advocates warn that other state bills likely would have moved had the pandemic not shuttered legislatures, and they expect to see a resurgence of them in 2021.
“I think long term, there’s major consequences with the Trump administration, even if Biden and Harris are able to win the White House, the state level attacks that will continue in the ways that those have escalated under Trump,” Chestnut said.
Trump has appointed more than 200 judges in his presidency, leaving a mark on the judiciary for generations to come. Lambda Legal claims that a third of those judges have a deep history of anti-LGBTQ+ advocacy.
“We really need to care about courts in the way that the right cares about courts because all of our civil rights, whether it’s LGBT rights, environmental rights, women’s rights, reproductive rights, racial justice, all those issues get decided in the courts, Buchert said.
“Donald Trump has stacked these courts for four years, including the Supreme Court,” said Stokes. “We’re going to be feeling the results of these four years for a generation in a lot of ways.”