State of LGBT+ rights after Biden's first 100 days

by Matthew Lavietes | @mattlavietes | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 4 May 2021 16:41 GMT

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress as Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) applaud, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, U.S. April 28, 2021. Chip Somodevilla/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

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Biden promised to pass federal protections for LGBT+ Americans, roll back Trump-era policies and promote LGBT+ rights abroad

(Refiles to correct spelling of name Talbott in par 20)

* Biden failed to keep promise to enact Equality Act in 100 days

* Executive orders expand LGBT+ protections in housing, credit

* Reversal of ban on recruiting trans Americans into military

* Record number of LGBT+ officials appointed

By Matthew Lavietes

NEW YORK, April 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Candidate Joe Biden promised a "march toward equality" for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans if he became president. One hundred days into office, how has U.S. President Biden done?

Here's a look at the state of LGBT+ rights today and how they stack up against Biden's pre-election pledge to better protect LGBT+ Americans, roll back Trump-era policies and strengthen minority rights globally.

EQUALITY ACT

As a candidate, Biden vowed to pass a law protecting LGBT+ Americans from discrimination, known as the Equality Act, within his first 100 days in office.

The Equality Act amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity for protection alongside race, religion, sex and national origin.

It passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in February but stalled in the Senate.

Press secretary Jen Psaki says Biden "continues to work toward it" but cannot act without Congress acting first.

"In order to sign legislation, it needs to come to his desk," Psaki told reporters.

Biden pressed U.S. lawmakers to pass the Equality Act in his address to Congress on Wednesday.

EXECUTIVE ORDERS

Biden issued an executive order on his first day in office directing federal agencies to extend equal rights safeguards to sexual minorities in health, housing, education and credit.

He likened it to last year's landmark Supreme Court ruling that extended workplace protection to gay and trans Americans, often cited as the biggest LGBT+ win since same-sex marriage.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in March and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in February made good on the directive, ensuring equal treatment for LGBT+ Americans in banking or when buying or renting a home.

However, the executive order fell short of barring discrimination in public spaces or government-funded services - areas earmarked for protection in the Equality Act.

That means the protections do not extend to places including restaurants, shops and public transport, as well as government-aided homeless shelters and adoption agencies.

TRANS MILITARY BAN

In his first month, Biden reversed Trump administration ban on recruiting trans Americans into the U.S. military.

In 2016, then-President Barack Obama allowed trans Americans to serve openly and receive medical care as they transitioned.

A year later, Trump partially reversed the order, banning new trans personnel from service.

"I've just been kind of stuck in this area of limbo for the past several years and it's like now somebody has finally hit the play button," said Nic Talbott, a trans man forced to drop out of the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps.

There are no official figures on trans Americans in the military, but the Rand Corp think-tank estimated in 2016 about 2,450 of 1.3 million active service members were trans.

TRANS RIGHTS

Republicans have introduced a record 175 trans rights-related bills in at least 32 states this year, according to Human Rights Campaign, the main U.S. LGBT+ advocacy group.

The bills largely aim to restrict trans children from competing in sports and receiving types of medical care which proponents of the measures say young people may later regret.

Biden made a nod to the slew of bills in his address to Congress on Wednesday.

"To all transgender Americans watching at home, especially the young people, you're so brave. I want you to know your president has your back," he said.

While the White House has limited ability to influence state legislation, some experts believe states' moves are a reaction to a newly-elected Democrat president.

"It's a way by Republicans at the state level to mobilize supporters using so-called wedge issues and especially cultural issues," Gabriele Magni, a political scientist at Loyola Marymount University told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

DIVERSE APPOINTMENTS

Biden has appointed to his administration a record number of LGBT+ officials in his first 100 days - at least 200 people - according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which backs LGBT+ candidates.

These include Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay Cabinet secretary to be confirmed by the Senate, and Rachel Levine, the first openly trans federal official.

LGBT+ RIGHTS ABROAD

Candidate Biden vowed to "restore the United States' standing as a global leader defending LGBTQ+ rights and development."

In February, Biden issued a presidential memorandum directing U.S. agencies working overseas to combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBT+ people.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week authorized all U.S. embassies and consulates to fly rainbow flags, synonymous with the LGBT+ community, in tandem with the American flag - reversing a ban by the Trump administration during Pride month. (Reporting by Matthew Lavietes @mattlavietes; Editing by Katy Migiro, Lyndsay Griffiths and Hugo Greenhalgh; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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