A great deal has changed for LGBT+ people in the United States since Joe Biden came into office one year ago today – but there’s still a long way to go.
The dark days of the Trump presidency aren’t quite as distant a memory as we might like. The far-right still holds a great deal of influence in the United States, and queer people continue to face disproportionate levels of violence and discrimination.
Since inauguration day on 20 January 2021, Joe Biden and Kamala Harrishave strengthened legal rights, they have rolled back Trump-era attacks, and they’ve created a more hospitable environment for LGBT+ people to exist in. The feeling among LGBT+ rights activists and advocacy groups is clear – it’s a good start, but there’s still plenty more to achieve.
One year on from inauguration day, we take a look at some of the issues Biden and Harris need to focus on over the next year to ensure that LGBT+ people’s lives are improving in tangible ways.
Joe Biden needs to end the epidemic of violence against trans women
Trans people, particularly trans women of colour, continue to face shocking levels of violence in the United States and across the world. We wish we could say things were getting better – but Biden’s first year in office was also the deadliest year on record for trans people in the United States.
One thing is clear – something needs to change, and it needs to change fast. The problem is that a political solution isn’t entirely clear or straightforward, according to Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign.
“There’s no easy answer or solution,” Warbelow says. She notes that it’s going to take “long term dedication to changing a variety of systems” in order for violence against trans people to be eradicated.
Some of the systems that need to be examined, according to trans rights activist Gavin Grimm, include housing, policing and healthcare. He has not been impressed with Biden’s approach to these issues so far.
Like many countries across the world, the United States still prevents queer men from donating blood if they’re sexually active. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires that gay and bisexual men abstain from sex for three months before donating blood.
It’s a regressive policy that is not based in science, and it’s a cruel hangover from the worst days of the AIDS epidemic.
“The American Red Cross just announced a blood donation crisis,” Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO and president of GLAAD, tells PinkNews. “Our nation’s blood supply is drastically, dangerously low. One way to alleviate the shortage and advance equality would be to urge the FDA to eliminate the discriminatory deferral period for gay and bisexual men to donate blood, and lead all agencies to revise donor screening processes to focus on current science rather than outdated notions and stigma.”
Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign, says it’s essential that the Biden administration zone in on regulations surrounding federally funded organisations to prevent them from discriminating against LGBT+ people.
“The Trump administration really prioritised the stated interests of providers over the needs of folks who have to access our nation’s social safety net,” Warbelow says. “This implicates nine agencies, so it is no small feat. It is certainly on the radar of the Biden administration, but it does need to be a priority.
“When LGBTQ folks, religious minorities, women, are finding a need to access the social safety net, they need to know that when they go to a federally funded entity – a nonprofit, for example – that they won’t be turned away based on that entity’s religious beliefs. Whether we’re taking about food security programmes, job training programmes, or even emergency shelter, that folks are going to be able to receive the services that they need. That is a major holdover from the Trump administration.”
Aaron Ridings, director of public policy at GLSEN, an organisation that advocates for LGBT+ students, says Biden must continue to engage in ongoing efforts to protect the civil and educational rights of trans, non-binary and intersex students.
Sadly, gender-diverse children and teenagers often don’t have an easy time at school. Many have had to contend with discriminatory policies, which vary from state to state and school to school. On 20 January, 2021, his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order preventing discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. It was a major step in the right direction for LGBT+ youth, Ridings says.
“We applaud the administration’s efforts to enforce nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ young people in schools, particularly transgender, nonbinary, and intersex students who are experiencing ongoing attacks and attempts to sanction discrimination in state legislatures across the country,” they say.
“GLSEN will continue to partner with the US Department of Education and other federal agencies to strengthen these protections and promote inclusive data collection practices that will help increase the effectiveness of programs and services.”
Over the next year, GLSEN would like to see the Biden administration expand on its current efforts to advance equality for LGBT+ people who face marginalisation in the education system. They would also like to see the administration “continue to se a tone that encourages classroom teachers, families, principals, administrators, state leaders and everyone who is part of K-12 learning communities to affirm and meet the needs of all students”.
The federal government must focus on LGBT+ mental health
Numerous studies have shown that LGBT+ people are more likely to experience mental health difficulties, and they’re also at a greater risk of suicide than their straight and cisgender peers.
Preston Mitchum is director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, an organisation that works to prevent suicide among LGBT+ people. He says Biden “deserves credit” for prioritising LGBT+ representation in his cabinet and for reversing the trans military ban, among other measures.
However, more has to be done to protect the mental wellbeing of LGBT+ people in America.
“We will continue to push the administration to take action at the federal level to protect young people from the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy, to expand access to mental health care for all, to improve the collection of sexual orientation and gender identity data across federal agencies, and to allocate the resources necessary to make [crisis line] 988 a success come July, including specialised services for LGBTQ youth,” Mitchum says.
“To end the public health crisis of LGBTQ youth suicide, we must break down barriers to care, confront stigma and key risk factors that contribute to mental health disparities, and make major investments in public education and health programs that enable LGBTQ young people to survive and thrive.”
LGBT+ people across the world watched on in horror in 2021 as state legislatures across America introduced cruel, dehumanising laws that targeted trans youth. Republicans across the country have targeted healthcare, sport and the right to privacy, among other issues.
Adam Polaski, communications director with Southern Equality, says the Biden administration needs to challenge those laws. He notes that Biden “has followed through on many of his commitments related to LGBTQ+ equality”, but it’s now time to look towards the future.
“We’d like to see him continue to use the ‘bully pulpit’ now to call for passage of federal non-discrimination protections – and, what’s more, work specifically with legislators on both sides of the aisle to pass meaningful federal protections,” Polaski says.
“He and his Department of Justice can also dive into challenging anti-LGBTQ laws, including the anti-trans healthcare discrimination law in Arkansas and myriad anti-trans student athletics laws. And we’d like to see him continue nominating out LGBTQ+ people and allies to federal judgeships and other government positions.”