Joe Biden takes office as US president [today] Wednesday, with a long list of LGBT+ policy pledges – from scrapping Donald Trump’s ban on transgender military recruits, to passing an anti-discrimination law.
The former vice president has promised to appoint a cabinet that “looks like America”, nominating former rival for the Democratic presidential candidacy, Pete Buttigieg, as the first openly gay cabinet secretary, at the Transportation Department.
Activists said the incoming administration had spoken with numerous LGBT+ advocacy groups since the November 3 election, expressing optimism that a Biden White House would move swiftly to make good on its policy pledges.
“We’re extremely hopeful, but we will of course … hold our friends accountable as much as we hold our opponents accountable,” said Cathy Renna, communications director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, a national campaign group.
Jamal Brown, a spokesman for Biden’s transition team, said the president-elect was “committed to advancing the most pro-equality agenda in history”.
“His administration will begin implementing that vision on day one on key LGBTQ+ priorities,” he added.
Here are some of the incoming administration’s campaign promises on LGBT+ issues:
TRANSGENDER MILITARY BAN
Biden has pledged to overturn Trump’s ban on transgender people joining the military, on his first day in office, and LGBT+ advocates said they expect the promise to be kept.
“The repeal of the transgender military ban, that is something that the president with an executive order can remove – one stroke of a pen,” said Arli Christian of the American Civil Liberties Union, which advocates for individual freedoms.
“We do expect to see that right away,” said Christian, a campaign strategist.
In 2019, Trump reversed a policy enacted by former President Barack Obama, allowing trans people to serve openly in the military, citing the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” of having trans personnel.
Other executive actions activists said they expected early in Biden’s presidency were adding ‘X’ gender markers to federal documents, such as passports, and reversing a rule allowing federal contractors to discriminate on religious grounds.
Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, said on the campaign trail he wanted to sign the Equality Act – a piece of civil rights legislation that would outlaw discrimination against LGBT+ people – during his first 100 days in office.
“It’s been confirmed that we will see movement on the Equality Act soon after they take office,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT+ group, citing members of Biden’s transition team and lawmakers.
In order for the Equality Act to pass the 100-seat Senate, and avoid a bill-killing procedure known as a filibuster, 10 Republicans would need to vote with all 50 Democrats.
“There is some degree of bipartisan support already,” said Gabriele Magni, an assistant professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
“(Maine Republican Senator) Susan Collins is one of the co-sponsors. And now that the 2020 election is over, it is not impossible for a handful of Republican senators to come out in support.”
Trump’s administration has objected to the Equality Act, saying that while it “opposes discrimination of any kind”, the bill would “undermine parental and conscience rights”.
As well as nominating Buttigieg as transportation secretary, Biden’s transition team has nominated transgender doctor Rachel Levine, as assistant health secretary, and announced a number of other openly LGBT+ staff appointments.
Confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin in the Senate on Thursday.
Biden’s LGBT+ appointments include Emmy Ruiz as director of political strategy and outreach, Gautam Raghavan as deputy director of the office of presidential personnel, and Karine Jean-Pierre as principal deputy press secretary.
Ruben Gonzales, executive director of the Victory Institute, which campaigns for LGBT+ people in political careers, said it was advocating for more diverse ambassadors.
“They’ve all been white gay men to serve (as ambassadors), so we expect to make history there,” Gonzales said.
Other advocates said they hoped that an interagency process on overseas LGBT+ issues, coordinated by the National Security Council and initiated under Obama, would be restarted and a State Department envoy for LGBT+ issues appointed quickly.
“We certainly are looking for a signal in the first few weeks that they will appoint somebody and they consider it a significant position,” said Mark Bromley of The Council for Global Equality, a Washington-based coalition of global LGBT+ advocacy groups.
-Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage and Jack Graham – Thomson Reuters Foundation