The House just passed the Equality Act for the second time in two years. But this time, it’s different. With a Democratic majority in the Senate, we have a real chance to make history and, for the first time ever, write explicit discrimination protections for LGBTQ people into our federal civil rights laws. This would be welcome progress after Trump’s four-year attack on LGBTQ people and about time, as the first version of the Equality Act was introduced in 1974.
In its first month in office, the Biden administration has taken several critical actions to reverse Trump’s damage to LGBTQ rights and restore the LGBTQ community’s trust. Biden repealed the discriminatory trans military ban.He achieved greater representation in government by appointing an out LGBTQ cabinet member — the first to be confirmed by the Senate in our nation’s history. He directed federal agencies to apply the historic Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in everything from housing to health care.
Yet just this week, the Mississippi legislature sent Gov. Tate Reeves a bill banning transgender athletes from female sports teams at schools and colleges, and he is expected to sign it. The nightmare is far from over, and we cannot get complacent. To advance LGBTQ equality, we have a lot more to do — and undo.
Undoing what Trump did
As we near the halfway point of Biden’s first 100 days, there are three concrete actions that the new administration must take. It must repair the damage to our courts by quickly adding a new slate of pro-equality judges, stop granting “licenses to discriminate,” and shut down policies that harm our most vulnerable.
The Trump administration installed judges intent on undermining LGBTQ rights and protections. Former President Donald Trump appointed nearly one-third of currently serving federal appellate judges (including three of nine Supreme Court Justices) and an alarming 40% of those judges have demonstrated anti-LGBTQ+ bias. The Biden administration must restore fairness and impartiality by naming judges who actually mean Equal Justice Under the Law when they say it.
We also need to reverse the Trump administration policies that legitimate using religion as a pretext for discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. Through the rulemaking process, Trump empowered federal agencies to allow health care providers, social service agencies and businesses to deny critical services to LGBTQ people based on the religious beliefs of their health care providers (who have a duty to safeguard the health of their patients).
The Trump Department of Health and Human Services gave adoption agencies the green light to deny same-sex couples the opportunity to adopt and foster children, meaning thousands will languish in institutional homes and foster care rather than be placed with families who want to give them a permanent and loving home. The Trump Department of Labor allowed federal contractors to discriminate against LGBTQ workers using “religious exemptions” as a smokescreen for discrimination.
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The Biden administration must ensure that all organizations that receive federal tax dollars and businesses open to the public treat all people with dignity and respect. To build a more inclusive society, our government must not subsidize private bigotry.
Restore our nation’s values
Finally, we must protect the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community, including refugees, children and people living with HIV. The rights of too many of these individuals have been deliberately targeted by hateful policies or just simply ignored. America has long stood as a beacon to the oppressed and marginalized — a nation where all are welcome — but Trump tarnished our reputation. He made it harder for LGBTQ people, many running from danger, to seek refuge on our shores. He put trans kids, who are more likely than their cisgender peers to experience bullying, in harm’s way by rolling back lifesaving guidance from the Department of Education. He fired patriotic service members living with HIV from our armed forces.
This cruelty goes against our most cherished values as a nation.
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The Biden administration must open our doors to LGBTQ refugees (some of whom are fleeing countries where the government puts LGBTQ people to death as a matter of law), reestablishing asylum rules to provide safe harbor for those escaping oppression because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. To safeguard educational opportunities for transgender children and further restore equality to our military, President Biden must take immediate action to reinstate protections for transgender students and end HIV discrimination in the military so that all who want to serve can do so.
Progress comes in many forms. Sometimes it means breaking new ground. Other times it means getting back to where we were before. And now is that time for Joe Biden to restore decency to American policy. The Biden administration is off to a good start in restoring many of the hard-fought victories achieved before Trump sabotaged them. But there is much more to do to advance the goal of equality for LGBTQ individuals and all Americans.
Kevin Jennings is the CEO of Lambda Legal. Follow him on Twitter: @KJennings