Joe Biden tells ‘brave’ trans Americans ‘the president has your back’ in historic speech

President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress, with vice president Kamala Harris (L) and House speaker Nancy Pelosi (R) on the dais

In his first address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night (28 April), Joe Biden came with a simple message for trans youth: He has your back.

The Democratic US president struck a hopeful tone for his first address 100 days into his presidency. One certain to resonate with an America exhausted by the coronavirus pandemic, a shaken economy and years of brittle partisanship.

But after promoting his various blockbuster plans to reshape America to a room with more chairs than people, he took his address to where no US president has done before.

In a brief but impactful line, he recommitted his pledge to pass the Equality Act before saying to a standing ovation: “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.”

His words come at a truly imperilling time for trans Americans.

Dozens of state legislatures are bulldozing bills limiting what sports trans teens can play and what healthcare they have access to. Trans homicide rates are rocketing to already record-breaking numbers – and there are still eight months of the year left.

Indeed, as Biden spoke of education, infrastructure, and other progressive programs that would “propel us into the future”, West Virginia dragged the country backwards. Signing a bill banning trans girls from competing in high school sports.

President Joe Biden urges Congress to pass Equality Act

But for now, Joe Biden sought to soothe fears by doubling down on his campaign pledge to pass the Equality Act.

“I also hope Congress can get to my desk the Equality Act to protect the rights of LGBT+ Americans,” Biden said during the address.

The landmark legislation would extend civil rights protections to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in all 50 states.

From housing to credit, the measure would unite America’s patchwork problem of state-level discrimination protections that, at times, miss LGBT+ folk out completely.

Passing the Equality Act within 100 days was long a bright line for Joe Biden coming into the White House, and the House passed the law in February. But it has since been held up between the chambers, awaiting a vote in the Senate.

President Joe Biden speaks to a joint session of Congress in the House chamber of the US Capitol. (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

And among other historic firsts in the address, two women stood behind the presidential podium on the dais for the first time. Vice president Kamala Harris and speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi took their seats in two of the country’s top decision-making roles.

“Madam speaker, madam vice president,” Joe Biden said.

“No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it’s about time.”
Top advocacy groups sought to praise Biden’s healing speech but stressed that he must not let his promises ring hollow. Action, for trans folk especially, is urgently needed.

“The Biden administration has made it clear through their actions that they are allies in the fight for equality and justice for LGBT+ people here in the United States and across the globe,” said president of the Human Rights Campaign Alphonso David in a statement to the press.

“In this moment, when LGBT+ rights are under attack in several states across the country, it was important to see president Joe Biden make it clear tonight that his priority would be continuing our shared fight to ensure that every American has access to the fullness of opportunity our country affords.

“To that point, we were especially heartened to hear the president specifically uplift his support for transgender people and particularly affirm transgender kids.”

“We have a great deal of work to do,” NextGen America Executive Director Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez said, “but young people’s record turnout has brought us a future full of possibility.”