Obama Administration Policy Advancements on behalf of LGBTQ Americans

Download a Complete Overview of President Obama’s Commitment to LGBTQ Equality

President Obama’s legacy of progress for the LGBTQ community is unmatched in history.

President Obama has signed the only signature pieces of LGBTQ-inclusive legislation to be passed by Congress:
 - The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act
 - The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell
 - And the first-ever LGBTQ-inclusive Violence Against Women Act re-authorization.

The Obama administration has also made a record number of appointments of LGBTQ judges and ambassadors — part of 250 LGBTQ appointments to full-time and advisory positions in the federal government.

The administration has also proactively instituted many far-reaching administrative and regulatory policy changes that have dramatically improved the lives of LGBTQ people in all 50 states and around the world.

Summary of Regulatory and Policy Changes


  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) adopted a regulation ending the ban on HIV-positive visitors and immigrants in October 2009.*

  • The State Department reversed a Bush Administration policy in June 2009 that refused to use a same-sex marriage license as evidence of a name change for passports.

  • President Obama issued two Presidential Memoranda (in June 2009 and June 2010) directing federal agencies to extend whatever benefits they could, under existing authority, to the same-sex partners of federal employees.  

  • In June 2009, the State Department extended numerous benefits to the partners of Foreign Service officers, including diplomatic passports, access to overseas medical and training facilities, inclusion in housing allocations, and access to emergency evacuation.*


  • In January 2010, OPM added gender identity to the equal employment opportunity policy governing all federal jobs.  In September 2011, OPM issued additional guidance to federal managers regarding the equal treatment of transgender workers.*   

  • The Census Bureau overturned the Bush Administration’s overbroad interpretation of the Defense of Marriage Act and agreed to release data on married same-sex couples along with other demographic information from the 2010 Census in March 2010.**

  • In March 2010, the IRS clarified that domestic partners (and their children) can be designated beneficiaries for VEBA funding/payment purposes.*

  • President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum in April 2010 directing HHS to issue regulations requiring all hospitals receiving Medicaid and Medicare to prohibit discrimination in visitation against LGBTQ people.  HHS issued regulations that went into effect in 2011.**  

  • The second Presidential memorandum published in June 2010 directed the extension of additional benefits to the partners of federal workers, including travel and relocation assistance, child care subsidies, and certain retirement benefits.*   

  • In June 2010, the Office of Personnel Management published a final rule allowing same-sex domestic partners of federal employees to apply for long term care insurance, and to take funeral and sick leave to care for a domestic partner.*

  • HHS’s Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability reviewed the lifetime ban on blood donation by gay and bisexual men, concluding in June 2010 that it is a “suboptimal” policy that screens out low risk donors and called on HHS to conduct research to support a move to a policy based on risk behavior, regardless of sexual orientation.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has initiated research into alternative approaches.* 

  • In June 2010, the Department of Justice issued an opinion clarifying that the criminal provisions of the Violence Against Women Act related to stalking and abuse apply equally to same-sex partners.*

  • In June 2010, the Department of State revised the standards for changing a gender marker on a passport, making the process less burdensome for transgender people.*

  • The Department of Labor issued guidance clarifying in June 2010 that an employee can take time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for a same-sex partner’s child, even where the partner does not have a legal or biological relationship to that child.*

  • In July 2010, HHS revised its funding guidance around abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education programs, requiring that recipient programs are inclusive of and non-stigmatizing toward LGBTQ youth, and mandating that they include only medically-accurate information.*

  • HHS awarded a $900,000 grant for the creation of a national resource center on LGBTQ aging issues to Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Elders (SAGE) in February 2010.  HHS also awarded a $13.3 million grant to the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center to create a model program supporting LGBTQ and questioning youth in the foster care system in October 2010.

  • In October 2010, the White House held a summit on school bullying and formed an interagency working group to look at ways to address this pervasive problem, including in regards to LGBTQ youth.


  • In February 2011, HHS rescinded provisions of a Bush-era rule which allowed health care providers to refuse to provide any health care service or information for a religious or moral reason.

  • The federal Prison Rape Elimination Commission proposed national standards to reduce sexual abuse in correctional facilities, including standards regarding LGBTQ and intersex inmates.  In early 2011, the Justice Department proposed regulations to implement those standards.   

  • At the request of HHS, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a lengthy report in March 2011 detailing the range of areas in which more research is needed on LGBTQ health needs.

  • In March 2011, HHS sent a number of recommendations to the White House for policy and regulatory changes that HHS could undertake to improve the health of LGBTQ people, including: collection of LGBTQ health data, guidance for states on including LGBTQ families in federal welfare programs, and guidance for states on protecting the financial resources of a same-sex partner when his or her partner enters long-term care under Medicaid.**

  • In June 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs published a directive establishing a policy of respectful delivery of healthcare to transgender and intersex veterans in all VA healthcare facilities.

  • In June 2011, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued guidance clarifying that state Medicaid agencies have the authority to provide same-sex couples with equal access to the financial and asset protections available to opposite-sex couples when a partner enters a nursing home or care facility.

  • In June 2011, the Department of Education held the first-ever LGBTQ Youth Summit.  At that event, Secretary Duncan announced guidance to schools nationwide making clear that right of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) to form and meet in public schools is protected under federal law.  

  • In June 2011, HHS awarded a grant to Heartland Alliance in Chicago to create the first-ever resource center for LGBTQ refugees being resettled in the United States.

  • In June 2011, HHS publicly committed to collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity in federal health surveys and laid out a timeline for identifying the best ways to collect quality data on LGBTQ people and including the appropriate questions in surveys.    

  • In September 2011, the Social Security Administration announced that it would no longer issue “gender no-match” letters to employers during the clearance process for potential employees.  This change protects transgender applicants from being unnecessarily outed to potential employers by the SSA.*

  • In October 2011, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) adopted a policy “strongly encouraging” companies contracting with the agency to have nondiscrimination policies protecting LGBTQ employees and other workers in place. 

  • In November 2011, the Internal Revenue Service formally announced that medically-necessary treatments related to gender transition are deductible for income tax purposes.*

  • In December 2011, President Obama issued a memorandum creating a strategy for U.S. government agencies to combat LGBTQ human rights abuses internationally.  


  • In January 2012, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued regulations recognizing LGBTQ families for federal housing programs, prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people in accessing federally-insured mortgage loans, and requiring HUD grantees to abide by LGBTQ-inclusive state and local antidiscrimination laws.  HUD also announced it would conduct the first-ever nationwide study of LGBTQ housing discrimination.*

  • In March 2012, U.S. Customs and Border Protection published a proposed rule that will expand the definition of family to include domestic partners for the purposes of processing the family when re-entering the U.S. from abroad.

  • In April 2012, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that the US will recognize marriages for immigration purposes regardless of a subsequent gender transition.

  • In April 2012, the EEOC published its decision in Macy v. Holder which found that gender identity discrimination in employment is a form of sex discrimination and prohibited under Title VII.

  • In May 2012, the Department of Justice (DOJ) published final regulations creating national standards aimed at eliminating sexual abuse in America’s prisons, jails, and local detention facilities as mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).  These standards directly address the needs of LGBTI and gender nonconforming prisoners.

  • In June 2012, the Internal Revenue Service published guidance specifically addressing the unique filing issues faced by same-sex couples, and clarified that eligibility for the adoption tax credit.**

  • In July 2012, the Administration on Aging published clarifying guidance that LGBTQ older adults should be included as a population with a “greatest social need” for purposes of Older American Act programs and funding.**

  • In July 2012, the Office of Personnel Management published a proposed rule that would expand eligibility for healthcare coverage for some non-biological, non-adopted children of LGBTQ federal employees.  Children of an employee’s domestic partner will be considered step children for the purposes of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and the Federal Employees Dental and Vision insurance Program.*

  • In July 2012, the Office of Personnel Management published a final rule extending the presumption of insurable interest annuity to families of same-sex federal employees.

  • In August 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration released new certification procedures eliminating burdensome, additional psychological testing for transgender pilots.


  • In January 2013, the National Institutes of Health released a report response to the Institute of Medicine’s report concerning the health of LGBTQ populations in the country. The NIH report specified that the research needs of the LGBTQ community span a number of institutes, centers, and offices within NIH and shows that NIH understands the breadth of health needs and disparities that impact LGBTQ people across the lifespan.

  • In February 2013, HHS published implementing regulations for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the context of coverage availability. 

  • In June 2013, the Social Security Administration announced a new policy modernizing and standardizing the process for changing the gender designation in Social Security records.  This new policy allows transgender people to maintain their privacy and prevents unnecessary outing to Social Security staff and to healthcare providers.  Under the revised policy, transgender people are able to change their gender on their Social Security records by submitting either government-issued documentation that reflects a change, or certification from a physician that confirms that they have received clinical treatment for gender transition.

  • In June 2013, the Office of Personnel Management published guidance on the extension of benefits to same-sex spouses allowing all legally married same-sex spouses of federal employees to apply for health insurance, life insurance, dental and vision insurance, long-term care insurance, retirement, and flexible spending accounts.**

  • In June and August 2013, the Social Security Administration issued guidance on the implementation of the Windsor decision.  The Social Security Administration will process the claims of same-sex spouses domiciled in states that recognize same-sex marriage. **

  • In July 2013, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services published guidance that all immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse will now be reviewed in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.

  • In July 2013, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice resolved a discrimination claim filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights on behalf of a transgender student in California who had been excluded from rooming with male peers on an overnight field trip and barred from using male restrooms. The government reached an agreement with the school district that it will treat the transgender student as male and revise its policies to ensure that all students are free from discrimination based on sex stereotypes as well as provide training to personnel and students. 

  • In August 2013, the Treasury Department and the IRS issued a ruling that all lawfully-married same-sex couples, regardless of where they live, will be recognized for federal tax purposes.**

  • In August 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services issued guidance to Medicare providers directing them to allow beneficiaries to access skilled nursing care in the same facility as a same-sex spouse, regardless of where the couple lives.

  • In September 2013, the Department of Labor issued guidance clarifying that the terms “spouse” and “marriage” in Title I of ERISA and in related regulations includes same-sex couples legally married in any state, regardless of where the couple currently lives.  This guidance ensures that same-sex spouses have access to important protections under employer health insurance, retirement, and pension plans.

  • In September 2013, the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board published an interim rule providing that the board will look at the state of celebration of a marriage to determine the marital status of Thrift Savings Plan participants.

  • In September 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid issued guidance encouraging states to look to the state of celebration when determining marital status for eligibility purposes.  CMS also issued guidance clarifying that the premium tax credits designed for the purchase of health coverage through the insurance exchanges are available to married same-sex couples, regardless of where they live. 

  • In September 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published guidance clarifying that state programs are no longer prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriages for purposes of Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

  • In September 2013, the IRS issued guidance to employers and employees addressing the process for amending tax returns to correct overpayments of employment taxes for 2013 and earlier years for certain same-sex spouse benefits and certain remunerations paid to same-sex spouses.**    

  • In September 2013, DoD announced that same-sex spouses will have access to the same benefits that are available to different sex spouses.  DoD will continue its practice of recognizing all marriages that are valid in their place of celebration.  Entitlements will be retroactive to June 26, 2013, the date of the Windsor decision.   The Department also announced a policy authorizing non-chargeable marriage leave when a service member is part of a same-sex couple and is assigned to a duty station located more than 100 miles from a U.S. state (or the District of Columbia) that allows same-sex couples to marry.  Eligible service members stationed within the Continental United States may be granted up to 7 days of leave; those stationed outside of the Continental United States may be granted up to 10 days of leave.**

    DoD has also issued guidance extending Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) coverage to same-sex spouses of military members and retirees.   The military’s SBP allows retired service members to designate their spouses, and in some instances their minor children, as beneficiaries to their military pension.  This allows the spouse or children to continue to receive a portion of the military pension upon the veteran’s death.  Military retirees who were married to a same-sex spouse on or before June 26, 2013 may now have spousal coverage under the SBP. 

  • In September 2013, the VA has announced that it will no longer deny marital benefit claims because a "spouse" or a "surviving spouse" is not a person of the opposite sex.  Servicemembers may also designate a same-sex spouse as a beneficiary for a number of programs including the Service Members Group Life Insurance (SGLI), the Veterans' Group Life Insurance (VGLI), the Post Vietnam-era Veterans Assistance Program (VEAP), and the Montgomery GI Bill. See Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Servicemembers.**

    The VA also has announced that individuals with a same-sex spouse, living in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage will be considered married for the purposes of the Home Loan Guarantee Program.  This program offers veterans and their families mortgages that feature low interest rates and monthly payments and no down payments or closing costs on their real estate transactions, among other advantages. The program can be used to buy new construction, buy an existing home or condo, refinance a mortgage, or make repairs or home improvements, including improvements to energy efficiency. 

  • In November 2013, OPM published final regulations recognizing the children of federal employees’ same-sex domestic partner as step-children for purposes of federal benefits, allowing these children to receive coverage.** 


  • In January 2014, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol announced a proposed regulatory change expanding the meaning of “members of a family residing in one household” for the purposes of the customs declaration form, which must be completed prior to re-entry to the United States.  The policy change will ensure that children of same-sex parents are recognized as members of the family regardless of adoption status.  Also, the proposed change will acknowledge individuals in committed relationships, for example long-time companions, and couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships, within the definition of “family.”

  • In April 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published guidance providing that Medicare will begin same-sex marriages for determining entitlement to or eligibility for Medicare. 

  • In May 2014, the Departmental Appeals Board at HHS issued a ruling in an administrative challenge brought by the ACLU, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights determining that Medicare’s policy of categorically excluding coverage of sex-reassignment surgery is unreasonable and contrary to contemporary science and medical standards of care.*

  • In May 2014, the Administration on Community Living (ACL) at HHS published guidance directing all ACL programs to recognize same-sex spouses who were lawfully married in any state, territory, or foreign jurisdiction as family members regardless of where the couple is currently residing.  For purposes of OAA programs, this policy will ensure that same-sex spouses are recognized by the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities as well as the Administration on Aging (AOA).  These spouses will now be recognized and have access to critical caregiver support programs and will be recognized as "family" within the definition of the OAA.**

  • In June 2014, the Department of Labor published a proposed rule revising the definition of “spouse” for purposes of the Family and Medical Leave Act to extend eligibility to all spouses, including same-sex, regardless of where they live.**

  • In June 2014, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced it was removing the exclusion of transition-related health services for Federal Employee Health Benefits plans (FEHB).*

  • In July 2014, President Obama signed an executive order protecting federal employees from discrimination on the basis of gender identity. 

  • In August 2014, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published new guidance directly addressing application of the HUD Equal Access Rule to emergency shelter and continuum of care programs, affirming important protections available to same-sex couples and their families seeking emergency shelter and other assistance from programs receiving HUD funds.

  • In August 2014, the Department of Labor issued official guidance and enforcement protocols clarifying the reach of the federal non-discrimination laws enforced by the Department and ensuring full protection for transgender individuals who work for federal contractors and subcontractors covered by these laws.

  • In September 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed two historic lawsuits challenging cases of discrimination against two transgender people, which is the first time the EEOC has used the protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to bring lawsuits challenging discrimination based upon gender identity.

  • In October 2014, the Department of Education implemented regulations requiring campus crimes based on a person’s gender identity to be compiled and published, in addition to national origin, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and disability.

  • In December 2014, the Department of Education released guidance clarifying that transgender students may enroll in single-sex classes and activities based on their gender identity.

  • In December 2014, the Department of Justice released guidance prohibiting federal law enforcement officers from profiling based on sexual orientation or gender identity

  • In December 2014, the Department of Justice announced it would no longer assert that gender identity is not covered Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination, consistent with the EEOC’s decision in Macy v. Holder.


  •  In February 2015, the Department of Labor published revised regulations to ensure that all married same-sex couples could access benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regardless of state of residence.**

  • In February 2015, the State Department appointed a Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons with the specific goal to, "reaffirm the universal human rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."**

  • In February 2015, the White House released the 2015 National Security Strategy (NSS) that specifically mentions, for the first time, the need to protect LGBTQ human rights as an objective of U.S. national security.

  • In February 2015, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) presented a new toolkit for integrating LGBTQ rights into the Europe and Eurasia (E&E) region. The goal of this toolkit is to create positive impact in development work, which will align with the Obama administration’s vision to promote LGBTQ rights as human rights around the world.

  • In May 2015, the FDA published draft guidance revising the deferral on gay and bisexual male blood donors from a lifetime ban to a 12 month deferral period.  Although HRC acknowledges that this policy change will allow some gay and bisexual men to become blood donors, it will continue to prevent sexually active gay men and bisexual men having sex with men from donating.

  • In June 2015, the Department of Defense announced that it will extend non-discrimination protections to LGB troops by updating the Military Equal Opportunity program to include sexual orientation as a protected class.

  • In July 2015, the Department of Defense announced the establishment of a working group to study lifting the ban on transgender military service, allowing transgender service men and women to serve openly.**

  • In July 2015, the Department of Justice confirmed that married same-sex couples would receive all federal benefits regardless of state of residence and directed agencies to take steps to implement the landmark Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges.**

  • In July 2015, the EEOC published its decision in Baldwin v. Foxx which found that sexual orientation discrimination in employment is a form of sex discrimination and prohibited under Title VII.

  • In August 2015, the Obama Administration appointed the first openly transgender White House Official, Raffi Freedman-Gurspan.

  • In September 2015, the Obama Administration nominated the first openly gay Secretary of the U.S. Army, Eric Fanning.

  • In September 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights proposed a regulation that provides explicit protections from discrimination on the basis of sex stereotyping and gender identity in healthcare and insurance under the Affordable Care Act. **

  • In September 2015, the White House held the first Community Bisexual Policy Briefing.

  • In October 2015, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published a report calling for an end to dangerous so-called “conversion therapy” for minors.

  • In October 2015, the IRS published proposed regulations clarifying the definitions of “spouse”, “husband”, and “wife” in the tax code to ensure equity for same-sex couples, and clarified that legally married same-sex couples would be recognized by the tax code regardless of their state of residence.

  • In November 2015, the White House announced support for the Equality Act, a bill to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, credit, education, public accommodations, federally funded program, and jury service. 

  • In November 2015, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced new guidance that will help to ensure transgender individuals have equal access to HUD-funded emergency shelters. **

  • In December 2015, the FDA finalized guidance that outlines the implementation of a deferral-based blood donation policy that utilizes a one year period of abstinence from same-sex sexual activity for men. Although HRC acknowledges that this policy change will allow some gay and bisexual men to become blood donors, HRC will continue to work with the FDA towards an eventual outcome that both minimizes risk to the blood supply and treats gay and bisexual men with the respect they deserve.**


  • In January 2016, the Department of Education announced that it would publish a searchable database in the coming months of educational institutions which have sought and/or received an exemption from federal civil rights law in order to discriminate.**

  • In March 2016, the Obama Administration appointed Raffi Freedman-Gurspan to Associate Director for Public Engagement—in addition to her current position as Outreach & Recruitment Director for Presidential Personnel—making Raffi the first transgender White House LGBTQ Liaison.

  • In April 2016, the White House Office of Personnel Management revised the definition of spouse in its Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) regulations to permit Federal employees with same-sex spouses to use FMLA leave in the same manner as Federal employees with opposite-sex spouses.

  • In April 2016, the U.S. Department of Education published a list of religious educational institutions that have received an exemption from federal civil rights law in order to discriminate against LGBTQ students, increasing transparency for current and prospective students.**

  • In May 2016, the FDA launched “This Free Life,” a historic public education campaign aimed at preventing and reducing tobacco use among LGBTQ young adults.

  • In May 2016, the Department of Justice sent a letter to Governor Pat McCrory stating that North Carolina, as a result of compliance with and implementation of House Bill 2, is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This letter further solidified that anti-transgender discrimination is prohibited under Title VII's prohibition of sex discrimination. 

  • In May 2016, the Department of Education issued new guidance for school districts to ensure that transgender students will be treated with dignity in public and federally funded schools, including having equal access to sex-segregated facilities, such as restrooms and locker rooms, that are consistent with their gender identity.**

  • In May 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights implemented a regulation that provides explicit protections from discrimination on the basis of sex stereotyping—including for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people—and gender identity in healthcare and insurance under the provisions of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

  • In June 2016, the Pentagon lifted their ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. military.**

  • In June 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published proposed regulations revising the Conditions of Participation (CoPs) for Hospitals and Critical Access Hospitals to include an explicit provision protecting LGBTQ patients. 

  • In June 2016, the Administration for Community Living (ACL), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, proposed new program guidance aimed at providing aging services and support to LGBTQ elders in communities across the country.  

  • In June 2016, President Obama designated the park at Stonewall as the first-ever national LGBTQ monument.**

  • In June 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) published a Final Rule setting forth requirements that covered contractors must meet under Executive Order 11246 prohibiting sex discrimination in employment. This Rule specifically prohibits discrimination by federal contractors against workers on the basis of gender identity or sex stereotyping. 


    In August 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor issued final guidance for the implementation of President Obama’s executive order on Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces. Among its provisions, the guidance makes clear that sexual orientation discrimination based on gender stereotyping and gender identity discrimination are considered forms of sex discrimination.


*Indicates a policy recommendation included in HRC’s 2009 “Blueprint for Positive Change.”

** Indicates a post-2009 policy recommendation involving substantial work by HRC and our movement peers with the administration.