Two years of Joe Biden: America’s most pro-LGBTQ+ president or a speed bump in Trump’s path?

Collage of Joe Biden in front of a rainbow-lit White House, a US flag, and protest signs calling for LGBTQ liberation

Two years after his inauguration, Joe Biden’s LGBTQ+ legacy is still being written.

Early in his term, Biden told the country that he had been elected to solve problems. Certainly, there was plenty to fix in the wake of Donald Trump and his virulently anti-LGBTQ+ administration.

In two years he’s made good progress, leading LGBTQ+ rights activists tell PinkNews – but on some issues, he’s failed to make meaningful change.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, says: “In words and deeds, in ways sweeping and detailed, president Biden has included and welcomed LGBTQ people, elevated visibility and acceptance, advocated for equality and expanded freedom.”

Specifically, Ellis explains, Biden has “nominated a record number of out LGBTQ judges, appointed LGBTQ people throughout his administration and expanded LGBTQ protections via historic new law, executive order and policy”. 

GLAAD notes the Biden administration has made more than 182 pro-equality moves in the first two years in office. This includes signing the Respect for Marriage Act – a piece of legislation that will federally protect same-sex and interracial marriage rights – on 13 December. 

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President Joe Biden signs the Respect for Marriage Act while surrounded by a group of people on the White House lawn with the White House lit up in rainbow LGBTQ+ colours
President Joe Biden signs the Respect for Marriage Act on 13 December 2022. (Getty)

By contrast, the Trump administration saw more than 200 attacks on policy and rhetoric during its term.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), agrees Biden has taken “strong steps to support the LGBTQ community”, especially when compared to the legacy left behind by the Trump administration. 

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“Some of the other things the administration has done is create some policy changes that make it safer for trans and non-binary people,” Warbelow says. 

“For example, the state department has begun issuing passports with X gender markers. We know that having identity documents that match your identity make it safer for folks to engage as they go out and about in the world. 

“We’ve also seen the president end the Trump era policy of excluding trans people from the military.”

Biden has failed to solve some of the biggest LGBTQ+ issues

While Biden has surpassed his predecessors on LGBTQ+ rights – hardly a tall task – there are many pressing issues that remain.

Biden has repeatedly spoken out against the epidemic of violence targeting trans people in the US, and there is a White House-led interagency working group to tackle it.

But the numbers speak for themselves. Critics say he’s failed to take any meaningful action to protect transgender Americans from violence, including those detained by ICE.

Young trans people, and LGBTQ+ people more widely, are also under attack from state Republicans, with hundreds of hateful bills being filed in 2022 alone.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden
Kamala Harris and Joe Biden. (Getty)

Ellis says Biden and his administration have “challenged unconstitutional proposals and deployed protections of the federal government when states have targeted LGBTQ people and youth”.

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There are natural limitations on administrative actions, but Warbelow says the president needs to continue to speak up and speak out on behalf of LGBTQ+ youth. 

“[He needs] to recognise the disproportionate harm that transgender and non-binary youth are experiencing as a result of these attacks in the states and continue to hold out the humanity of LGBTQ kids and demand that our youth our fully embraced – not simply tolerated,” she says. 

Equality Act has stalled – but changes can be made

Without a strong majority in Congress, Biden has failed to pass the Equality Act which would give LGBTQ+ people stronger legal protections from discrimination. Biden vowed to pass the act within his first 100 days in office.

While the Democrats have lost control of the House, Ellis says Biden and the Senate “must continue leading on issues a majority of Americans already support: passing the Equality Act, removing racist barriers like the filibuster to expand voting protections and abortion access, and continue to nominate and confirm LGBTQ people to federal benches and the Supreme Court, to restore the promise of equal justice under law”.

Warbelow says one of the things the administration can and must do is “move as quickly as possible” to finalise changes to two critical rules that would protect trans people in healthcare and in schools.

President Joe Biden stands at a podium to deliver his State of the Union address with an American flag in the background
President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on 1 March 2022 in Washington DC. (Getty/Saul Loeb – Pool)

The first is Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, a non-discrimination healthcare provision. There are constant legal battles challenging how trans healthcare is protected by the measure

There’s also Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools and federally-funded education programmes, which has been at the centre of an ongoing battle in the US around trans inclusion in school sports. 

“What needs to happen is for the administration to appropriately, but moving as quickly as possible given the legal constraints, finalise all of these critical rules that are in process,” Warbelow says.

She adds: “We’d also like to see more done with respect to conversion therapy.

“It is a fraudulent business practice. It is dangerous, and it is something that needs to stop. And in fact, families need the support to understand that these are things that they should be turning away from.”

Joe Biden speaking into a microphone, there are Christmas trees in the background
Joe Biden. (Getty)

The Biden administration promised to prioritise science over stigma, and Ellis says the president must “accelerate the lifting of discriminatory screening policies against LGBTQ men from donating blood and plasma”. Currently, queer men must abstain from sex for three months before they can give blood – the FDA is planning to end this blanket ban.

Ellis also wants the Biden administration and other relevant agencies to continue to push for reforms to “eliminate stigma around HIV and end the epidemic even sooner than its goal of 2030”. 

Ellis calls the administration’s response to mpox (formerly monkeypox) “swift” and “a far cry from previous administrations’ negligence in the COVID-19 pandemic, and the HIV epidemic”. But the rollout of an mpox vaccine was widely criticised, and the US has accounted for more than 30,000 of the 84,000 global reported mpox cases.

Biden is yet to announce whether he’ll seek another term, though many believe it’s looking more and more likely that he will stand in 2024.

Polls suggest that he won’t face an easy time, putting him on an almost level pegging with Ron DeSantis and just above Donald Trump.

Both Republicans are dangerously anti-LGBTQ+, and would undoubtedly weaponise queer rights to garner right-ring support – making it all the more important for Biden to act swiftly and decisively over the coming two years.

While it’s certain he’s made important progress, he’s also made promises that are yet to be fulfilled. Right now, it’s unclear whether history will remember him as a hero for the LGBTQ+ community, or as a speed bump for the MAGA movement.

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