State of the Union: Joe Biden claims to ‘have trans people’s backs’ – but his words ring hollow

Joe Biden during the 2024 State of the Union address.

US president Joe Biden has once again promised his support for transgender people in his State of the Union address, but some LGBTQ+ people were less than impressed.

Biden made the pledge, along with promises over abortion treatment, the economy and immigration, during his State of the Union speech on Thursday (7 March), “I know the American story,” he said. “I’ve seen the contest between competing forces in the battle for the soul of our nation, between those who want to pull America back to the past and those who want to move America into the future.

“I want to protect other fundamental rights, pass the Equality Act,” he said. “And my message to transgender Americans: I have your back.”

Biden made the same vow during last year’s annual address, when he urged congress to “pass the bipartisan Equality Act.”

Hearing the same promise two years in a row has left some people disappointed at the president’s efforts to quell anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric in the US, especially given the onslaught of legislation targeting the queer community.

Data collected by the American Civil Liberties Union estimates that 478 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, many of which are aimed at transgender men and women, have been filed across US states this year alone.

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Raquel Willis, an award-winning author and activist, wrote on Twitter/X: “Quite a disappointment that Biden simply rehashed a talking point about trans folks and didn’t even take an opportunity to address Nex Benedict whose bullying, brutalisation and death epitomises the rampant transphobia in our country.”

Meanwhile, independent journalist Erin Reed said that while the bulk of the speech sounded “pretty strong,” the pledge “might have sounded good four years ago” but, for many trans Americans, now “rings rather hollow”.

However, Biden’s words were well-received by GLAAD president and chief executive Sarah Kate Ellis, who was pleased the Democrat president “accurately included” LGBTQ+ people in his speech.

“The freedom of LGBTQ+ people to be ourselves, to live in peace and not be discriminated against, to read books about our lives, to have our votes and voices count, are connected to everyone’s freedoms,” she wrote.

“The vast majority of Americans who support us must use their voices and votes against the increasingly isolated fringe few. When LGBTQ+ people and all on the margins are included in the conversation and welcome as we are, all of us have a better chance to be safe and to succeed.”

Elsewhere in the speech, Biden said: “Stop denying another core value of America: our diversity across American life. Banning books [is] wrong. Instead of erasing history, let’s make history.”