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President Joe Biden incorporated LGBTQ topics into his first presidential address to Congress, urging passage of the Equality Act and affirming his support for transgender Americans.
In his address, Biden reflected on his first 99 days in office, covering America’s response to COVID-19, including the rollout of vaccines, and pitching his plans for job creation, paid family leave, and significant investments in research, clean fuels, early childhood education, and infrastructure as solutions that would grow the economy and aid Americans struggling to rebound from a deadly pandemic that has kept the world captive for the past year.
At times, Biden’s speech took on the flavor of a Democratic National Convention speech, reiterating planks of his political party’s platform and populist economic proposals that decades of polling have shown are favored by the vast majority of Americans, including an increase in the minimum wage, tax hikes on high-income earners, and closing loopholes that allow large corporations to avoid paying taxes.
Biden also pledged to fund an advanced research project agency at the National Institute of Health that would focus on developing breakthroughs to prevent, detect, and treat serious diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes. The president then took a point of personal privilege to thank Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for a 2016 NIH funding bill earmarked for cancer research, named in honor of Biden’s late son, Beau Biden, who died in 2015 of glioblastoma.
Biden also touched on issues of racial justice, calling out white supremacy as a threat to national security, and also calling for police reform in the wake of the recent guilty verdict handed down against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer whose actions led to the death of George Floyd, a Black man, last year.
Biden reiterated past calls he’s made for Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act before the end of next month, a bill that would demilitarize police departments, require the use of body cameras in policing, ban chokeholds and carotid holds, pass prohibitions on the use of no-knock warrants, and encourage officer to pursue de-escalation techniques where possible. He also called for passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would increase access to voting and restore parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that it unfairly penalized Southern states with a history of engaging in voter suppression tactics.
With respect to the LGBTQ community, Biden touted his support for the Equality Act, a bill that would enshrine prohibitions on discrimination based on a person’s sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity in law, and would also expand parts of the Civil Rights Act by prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations based not only on LGBTQ identity, but race, ethnicity, religion, and other characteristics.
Biden, a longtime ally of the LGBTQ community, then gave a shout out to members of the transgender community, particularly transgender youth, who have been targeted by more than 200 different bills in at least 30 state legislatures seeking to bar them from participating in sports based on their gender identity, prohibit them from accessing gender-affirming care, even with parental consent, and place “gag rules” prohibiting LGBTQ-related content in sex education classes — with some states going even farther by proposing bans on LGBTQ-themed books in reading and literature classes and requiring parents to “opt-in” to lesson plans before a teacher can broach, even in passing, LGBTQ figures or movements in history classes.
“To all the transgender Americans watching at home — especially the young people who are so brave — I want you to know that your president has your back,” Biden said.
The Freedom & Opportunity For All campaign, a national campaign by LGBTQ advocates urging passage of the Equality Act, praised the president’s remarks, saying that “no one should be denied basic protections from discrimination simply based on what state or zip code they call home.”
The campaign called the Equality Act a “unifying issue” for the nation citing polling showing an overwhelming majority of Americans support nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBTQ individuals. But it also expressed dismay at the 29 states without LGBTQ protections in housing, health care, jury service, access to government services, or access to stores that offer goods and services to the general public.
“We urge the Senate to swiftly pass this historic legislation, which represents a critical step toward ensuring that America lives up to our foundational values of equality and freedom for all,” the campaign said in a statement.
Kasey Suffredini, the CEO and national campaign director of Freedom for All Americans, called Biden’s remarks a “historic milestone.”
“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 said in a statement. “We urge members of Congress to follow the President’s leadership, listen to the hopes and dreams of the LGBTQ community, and vote with their hearts to pass the Equality Act as soon as possible. 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.”
In a virtual conversation with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden ahead of the president’s address, Stella Keating, a transgender teen and the founder of the GenderCool Project — a youth-led initiative to increase the visibility of, and dispel myths about, transgender people — shared her story and reiterated the importance of passing the Equality Act.
Keating, who became the first out transgender person to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, when she spoke in favor of the Equality Act, said she was happy to hear the president’s planned remarks on LGBTQ issues.
“Finally, to hear President Biden say all human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love, told me that I am valued, that I matter, and that I belong,” Keating said, according to Seattle-based NBC affiliate KING5. “This gives me hope, and more importantly, it gets me excited for my future.”
The LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD also spoke positively about the president’s remarks and thanked the First Lady for inviting Keating to participate in the virtual conversation, which, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, served as a substitute for appearing as a guest in the First Lady’s box — an important honor bestowed on key individuals representing or speaking on behalf of certain issues whenever the president addresses Congress.
“President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden are showing the world that LGBTQ people are welcome and belong everywhere, including his first address to Congress, and in his plan for American families,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. “The fact that President Biden will spotlight the inequalities LGBTQ Americans face every day and call for passage of The Equality Act speaks volumes about how important this legislation is and how much this new Administration is doing to ensure full equality and acceptance. LGBTQ lives are on the line, and it’s time for the U.S. Senate to take action and send The Equality Act to the President’s desk for his signature.
“We are so proud of Stella and all transgender youth who are living their truth and speaking out to protect their peers and their families,” Ellis continued. “State lawmakers need to stop targeting trans kids and leave them alone.”
Kierra Johnson, the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, praised the overall topics broached by the president’s speech.
“Tonight, the President laid out a broad agenda that would improve the lives of diverse LGBTQ people in this country in so many ways, 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,” Johnson said. “I believe Congressman John Lewis would be mighty pleased, for the President’s speech shows he and Vice-President Harris are all about making good trouble.”
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