Cover story

By Brenda Beveridge

Official portrait of Vice President Joe Biden in his West Wing Office at the White House, Jan. 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Joe Biden believes that every human being should be treated with respect and dignity and be able to live without fear no matter who they are or who they love. During the Obama-Biden Administration, the United States made historic strides toward LGBTQ+ equality—from the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to Biden’s historic declaration in support of marriage equality to the unprecedented advancement of protections for LGBTQ+ Americans at the federal level.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump and Mike Pence have given hate against LGBTQ+ individuals safe harbor and rolled back critical protections for the LGBTQ+ community. By blocking the ability of transgender individuals to openly serve their country, denying LGBTQ+ people access to critical health care, proposing policies allowing federally funded homeless shelters to turn away transgender people and federally funded adoption agencies to reject same-sex couples, and failing to address the epidemic of violence against transgender people—particularly transgender women of color—the Trump-Pence Administration has led a systematic effort to undo the progress President Obama and Vice President Biden made.

Hate and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people started long before Trump and Pence took office. Defeating them will not solve the problem, but it is an essential first step in order to resume the march toward equality.
Half of LGBTQ+ Americans live in states without adequate civil rights protections. They can get married on Sunday and the very next day get fired under state law because of who they are or who they love. LGBTQ+ people still face discrimination in nearly every aspect of their lives, including employment, military service, starting a family, and obtaining a driver’s license with their accurate gender marker.
The Equality Act is the best vehicle for ensuring equal rights under the law for LGBTQ+ Americans, and will guarantee that LGBTQ+ individuals are protected under existing civil rights laws. Biden will make enactment of the Equality Act during his first 100 days as President a top legislative priority. Biden will also direct his Cabinet to ensure immediate and full enforcement of the Equality Act across all federal departments and agencies.
In addition to enacting the Equality Act, Biden will take action using his executive authority. He will immediately reverse the discriminatory actions of the Trump-Pence Administration and then go further to end discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals.

Protect LGBTQ+ individuals from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Reaffirm that the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2014, the Obama-Biden Department of Justice affirmed that the Civil Rights Act’s Title VII prohibition against employment discrimination based on sex applies to discrimination based on gender identity. The EEOC later affirmed that Title VII prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The Trump-Pence Administration’s Department of Justice has reversed this position, arguing that Title VII excludes protections for these groups. Biden will ensure enforcement of Title VII and work to pass the Equality Act to affirm that employment discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation is prohibited.

Support transgender and non-binary people in the workforce
Transgender and non-binary Americans face significant discrimination when seeking employment. To address these unique challenges, Biden will ensure that workforce and entrepreneurial training programs and resources funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Small Business Administration focus on and benefit this community. He will also provide incentives for states and local governments to adopt programs that help prepare transgender and non-binary people for the workforce and encourage entrepreneurship.

Stop employment discrimination in the federal government. The federal government should lead by example. Biden will restore full implementation of President Obama’s executive order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors, which Trump has undermined. The Biden Administration will also work with civil rights leaders to develop and institute implicit bias training programs for federal workers and contractors to address discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or disability.
A Biden Administration will make the resulting training materials available to the public so other employers can conduct similar programs.

Reverse the transgender military ban
In 2010, Biden played a leading role in the Obama-Biden Administration’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to allow gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members to serve the country they love without hiding their sexual orientation. In June 2016, the Obama-Biden Administration overturned the ban on transgender individuals serving openly, without hiding their gender identity. But Trump reversed this policy, barring transgender patriots from serving openly. This is discriminatory and detrimental to our national security. Every American who is qualified to serve in our military should be able to do so—regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and without having to hide who they are. Biden will direct the U.S. Department of Defense to allow transgender service members to serve openly, receive needed medical treatment, and be free from discrimination.

Reverse Department of Defense policies that perpetuate stigmatization of and discrimination against people living with HIV. The Trump-Pence Administration’s “Deploy or Get Out” policy, which is used to forcibly discharge members of the military with HIV, was found to be “irrational, inconsistent, and at variance with modern science” by a federal district court. The Fourth Circuit affirmed this decision in January 2020 for “fail[ing] to account for current medical literature and expert opinion about current HIV treatment and transmission risks.” If the Trump-Pence Administration continues to try to implement the policy, the Biden Administration will rescind it.

Support LGBTQ+ veterans.
Biden’s plan for veterans calls for addressing the unique needs of LGBTQ+ veterans. As President, he will direct his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to ensure that wraparound services provided under the Supportive Services for Veterans Families program address the unique needs of LGBTQ+ veterans experiencing homelessness. He will direct the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish cultural competency training protocols to ensure that providers in VA facilities and in community care settings are equipped to support the needs of LGBTQ+ veterans in the health care setting. And, Biden will instruct the Secretary of Defense to ensure LGBTQ+ veterans discharged due to their sexual orientation or gender identity receive prompt review of applications for discharge upgrades submitted to the Boards for Correction of Military Records.

Support the freedom to build and protect families
In November 2019, the Trump-Pence Administration proposed a rule that will permit adoption and foster care agencies that discriminate against LGBTQ+ families to receive government funding.

As President, Biden will repeal the rule, if implemented, and work to ensure that qualified families are not discriminated against based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, sex, marital status, disability, or religion and that child welfare agencies put the interests of children first, including those who are LGBTQ+.
On May 6, 2012, in a historic interview on Meet the Press, Biden became the highest-ranking elected U.S. official to support marriage equality. Three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, ruling that the freedom to marry is a fundamental right. Along with the freedom to marry comes the freedom to build a family. Biden believes that LGBTQ+ people and same-sex couples should be able to build and protect their families.

Similarly, these agencies often put LGBTQ+ youth in care at risk by failing to place them with safe and affirming families. In addition, Biden will work with the U.S. Department of State and other federal agencies to ensure the equal treatment of same-sex couples and their children in the application of all federal programs, services, and benefits—especially with respect to citizenship eligibility requirements and immigration and naturalization proceedings.

End the misuse of broad exemptions to discriminate. Religious freedom is a fundamental American value. But states have inappropriately used broad exemptions to allow businesses, medical providers, social service agencies, state and local government officials, and others to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. The Trump-Pence Administration has deliberately and systematically attempted to gut protections for the LGBTQ+ community by carving out broad religious exemptions to existing nondiscrimination laws and policies across federal agencies. Biden will reverse Trump’s policies misusing these broad exemptions and fight so that no one is turned away from a business or refused service by a government official just because of who they are or who they love.

Reinstate protections for LGBTQ+ people experiencing homelessness.
The Obama-Biden Administration ensured federally funded homeless shelters provide housing according to an individual’s gender identity and cannot refuse services based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The Trump-Pence Administration has since proposed allowing shelters to discriminate against transgender people when determining their accommodations, for example, by forcing transgender women to sleep and use the bathroom in the same place as men. As President, Biden will secure the passage of the Equality Act, ensuring that no President can ever again single-handedly roll back civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ individuals, including in housing and homeless shelters.

Support LGBTQ+ seniors
There are approximately 3 million LGBTQ+ individuals in the United States older than age 50, and this number is expected to more than double by 2030. These older adults often face discrimination in all aspects of their lives, from employment to housing to health care. The Obama-Biden Administration helped provide support and resources for older LGBTQ+ individuals through the Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE) resource program. Biden will champion passage of the Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act to ensure non-discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ+ older Americans. He will also protect and strengthen Medicare, preserve and strengthen Social Security, and provide help for older LGBTQ+ workers who want to keep working. Read Biden’s full older Americans plan at

Affirm one’s gender marker and expand access to accurate identification documents
Transgender and non-binary people without identification documents that accurately reflect their gender identity are often exposed to harassment and violence and denied employment, housing, critical public benefits, and even the right to vote. The Obama-Biden State Department led the way by updating its gender change policies for passports.
As President, Biden will build on this action to ensure all transgender individuals have access to identification documents that accurately reflect their gender identity. Biden believes every transgender or non-binary person should have the option of changing their gender marker to “M,” “F,” or “X” on government identifications, passports, and other documentation. He will support state and federal efforts to allow for this accurate representation.

Ensure blood donation procedures are based on science. Under the Obama-Biden Administration, the discriminatory lifetime ban on blood donation based on stigma was lifted. Biden will work with the Food and Drug Administration to ensure regulations are based on science, not fiction or stigma. As proposed by the Human Rights Campaign, Biden will invest in “new research to study risk behavior” and support “[consideration of] revising the donor questionnaires so that they focus on more refined and specific behavioral criteria, like recent sexual histories that include unprotected sex or significant numbers of sexual partners over the previous year.”

Throughout his career, Biden has championed equality and inclusion for young LGBTQ+ individuals. Biden knows how important it is for young LGBTQ+ people to feel safe, supported, and valued at home and in school. Through policies and public leadership, the Obama-Biden Administration made it a priority to change the culture from one of fear and rejection to one where young LGBTQ+ individuals feel safe, affirmed, accepted, and loved. As private citizens, Joe and Jill Biden continued this work through the Biden Foundation’s “As You Are” campaign, which promoted understanding and acceptance among young LGBTQ+ individuals and their families. As President, Biden will:

Ensure young LGBTQ+ people are supported and protected in our schools and college campuses by:
Guaranteeing transgender students have access to facilities based on their gender identity. On his first day in office, Biden will reinstate the Obama-Biden guidance revoked by the Trump-Pence Administration, which will restore transgender students’ access to sports, bathrooms, and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity. He will direct his Department of Education to vigorously enforce and investigate violations of transgender students’ civil rights.

Protecting LGBTQ+ students from sexual assault, harassment, and bullying. Biden has put forward a number of proposals to reduce sexual violence, dating violence, and online harassment among young adults, and he will ensure all of these initiatives include a focus on helping LGBTQ+ students, who report higher rates of sexual assault than other students. He will also work to enact the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which will establish a grant program to support campus anti-harassment programs. And, Biden will reinstate the Obama-Biden guidance requiring federally funded schools to prohibit harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Biden will also support passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which requires school districts to develop bullying and harassment policies.

Ending school discipline policies that disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ students. LGBTQ+ students, and especially LGBTQ+ students of color, transgender students, and LGBTQ+ students with disabilities, are more likely than their non-LGBTQ+ peers to receive detention, suspensions, and expulsions from school, often as a result of discrimination and harassment. Biden will expand the Obama-Biden Administration’s work to address the disproportionate impact of school discipline on girls of color to include LGBTQ+ students, all students of color, and students with disabilities.

Work to end suicide among young LGBTQ+ individuals. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual young people are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. And one-third of transgender young people report that they attempted suicide in the past year. Biden will ensure that suicide prevention programs in schools and local communities are based on proven best practices, which the U.S. Department of Education will disseminate. He will expand access to mental health resources by doubling the number of psychologists, guidance counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in our schools. Building off of Pennsylvania’s proposed Phillip’s Law, Biden will direct his Secretary of Education to complete a study of mental health needs and services in our schools. And, Biden will invest in research to develop more effective teen suicide prevention programs.

Protect LGBTQ+ Individuals from Violence
Combat the epidemic of violence against transgender women of color. As a direct response to the high rates of homicide of transgender people—particularly transgender women of color—the Biden Administration will make prosecuting their murderers a priority. And during his first 100 days in office, Biden will direct federal resources to help prevent violence against transgender women, particularly transgender women of color. Recognizing that employment and housing discrimination lead to increased risk of homelessness and violence, Biden will also work to pass the Equality Act to reduce economic barriers and social stigma and the LGBTQ Essential Data Act to help collect a wide variety of critical data about anti-trans violence and the factors that drive it. He will also direct his Administration to update the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports Supplementary Homicide Reports (UCR-SHR) to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Currently, theses reports do not include categories for sexual orientation and gender identity, hampering our ability to fully diagnose and measure the extent of violent crimes against transgender, gay, lesbian, and bisexual victims.

Enforce and strengthen the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Over the years, Biden has championed more than a dozen bills around hate crime prevention efforts, including legislation in 1989 requiring the government to begin collecting data around hate crimes based on sexual orientation and landmark legislation in 1994 allowing harsher penalties for crimes based on sexual orientation. In 2009, Obama and Biden championed and signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, which expanded the nation’s hate crimes law to include crimes based on one’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. But today there is still so much more work to do. According to the 2018 FBI Hate Crime Statistics, nearly 19% of hate crimes reported in 2018 were based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Biden will tackle these crimes through moral leadership that makes clear that vitriol has no place in the United States. In addition, he will strengthen enforcement of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Act by increasing funding for anti-bias and hate crimes investigation training. He will work with Congress to pass both the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, which will improve hate crime reporting and data collection, and the End Racial and Religious Profiling Act, which will prohibit law enforcement from targeting a person based on “actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.” And, Biden will ensure that his Administration’s Department of Justice makes hate crimes a prosecutorial priority.

Expand access to high-quality health care for LGBTQ+ individuals
“[We] passed the Affordable Care Act so no one can be denied health care because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.”
— Joe Biden, March 23, 2014

Guarantee the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ+ community. Before the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies could increase premiums merely due to someone’s gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Further, insurance companies could increase premiums or deny coverage altogether due to someone’s HIV status. Yet, President Trump is trying to walk back this progress. For example, he has proposed to once again allow health care providers and insurance companies to discriminate based on a patient’s gender identity. President Biden will defend the rights of all people—regardless of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity—to have access to quality, affordable health care free from discrimination.

Ensure coverage for comprehensive care for LGBTQ+ Americans. Biden will ensure that LGBTQ+ individuals have full access to all appropriate health care treatments and resources. This includes covering care related to transitioning—including gender confirmation surgery. And, it includes covering HIV treatment and prevention. Biden will ensure that federal health plans provide coverage for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis)—lifesaving, highly effective HIV prevention medications. Fortunately, thanks to a recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Task Force (USPSTF), PrEP must be covered without cost-sharing starting in 2021. Biden will ensure other costs, including for lab and clinical services, are covered. He will also put a stop to price gouging by the pharmaceutical industry by taking action when drugs are abusively priced by manufacturers.
Update and implement the Obama-Biden Administration’s comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy. Biden has fought for access to treatment for people with HIV/AIDS and funding for HIV/AIDS research, and he helped pass and expand the Global AIDS program (PEPFAR). As President, he will re-commit to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025. Biden will update and implement the nation’s comprehensive HIV/AIDS strategy, first launched by the Obama-Biden Administration. This strategy will aggressively reduce new HIV cases, while increasing access to treatment and eliminating inequitable access to services and supports. In addition, Biden will fully fund the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which provides services to individuals with HIV/AIDS, and will increase federal funding for HIV/AIDS research and support increased funding for the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS program. And, he will work to end discrimination and stigma to reduce “barriers to HIV prevention, testing, and care” through education, outreach, and convening key stakeholders and groups. He will provide funding to implement evidence-based programs designed to stop the spread of diseases like HIV, including syringe service programs.

Decriminalize HIV exposure and transmission laws. In 2018, 26 states in America had HIV exposure criminal laws. These laws perpetuate discrimination and stigma towards people with HIV/AIDS, and there is simply no “scientific basis” for them. As President, Biden will support legislation like the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act, which promotes best practice recommendations for states.

Ban so-called “conversion therapy.” Hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ individuals have been subjected to so-called “conversion therapy” during their lifetime, which Biden knows is deeply harmful, highly unscientific, and often leads to trauma. The Obama-Biden Administration supported legislative efforts to ban “conversion therapy” against minors, but today this practice is only fully banned for minors in 19 states. As President, Biden will work to enact the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act.

Restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood health centers across the country play an important role in providing affordable, culturally competent care to LGBTQ+ individuals. Biden will revoke Trump’s restrictions on Title X of the Public Health Service Act and restore funding to Planned Parenthood, so this vital public health organization can continue providing critical and quality health care to poor and underserved communities, including reproductive health services, cancer screenings, HIV testing, hormone therapies, and general medical care.

Expand mental health and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ+ indvidiuals. As Vice President, Biden championed efforts to implement the federal mental health parity law, improve access to mental health care, and eliminate the stigma around mental health. As President, he will redouble these efforts to ensure enforcement of mental health parity laws and expand funding for mental health services for the LGBTQ+ community.
Improve access to quality health care for LGBTQ+ Americans in rural communities. Rural America faces unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to access to quality health care. Keeping our rural hospitals open is critical for saving lives, yet roughly 1 out of 4 rural hospitals are at risk of shutting down. Biden will automatically enroll low-income LGBTQ+ people, including LGBTQ+ people of color, living in rural communities who would be eligible for Medicaid but for their state’s unwillingness to take up the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion, in a new public option without a premium. He will also adequately fund rural hospitals and give them the flexibility they need to keep their doors open and care for their LGBTQ+ patients.

As President, Biden will restore the United States’ standing as a global leader defending LGBTQ+ rights and development and work closely with our partners and like-minded governments to ensure that violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals do not go unchecked. Within his first week in office, President Biden will issue a Presidential Memorandum prioritizing his administration’s support for LGBTQ+ human rights and development worldwide.