Human Rights Campaign Celebrates Advances in LGBTQ+ Policies One Year Into Biden-Harris Administration

by Delphine Luneau

More Regulatory Changes Still Needed to Ensure Lasting Change, Break Down Long-Standing Barriers to LGBTQ+ Equity

One day before the one year anniversary of the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) celebrates the advances that have been made in LGBTQ+ rights under the Biden-Harris administration. Since day one, the Biden-Harris White House has taken concrete, meaningful steps to reverse the anti-LGBTQ+ policies of the previous administration, while also working to ensure government agencies don’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, close the gaps in measurable outcomes for marginalized populations and increase LGBTQ+ representation at all levels of government.

“We at the Human Rights Campaign want to thank President Biden and Vice President Harris for their principled and committed policies in support of LGBTQ+ rights,” said HRC Interim President Joni Madison. “For a community that is all too often under attack from a variety of regressive, self-serving actors, having strong LGBTQ+ allies in the White House has been a comfort to the community. From rolling back discriminatory policies and providing affirmative non-discrimination protections, to appointing LGBTQ+ people to prominent positions, to continuing to share the message of the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion and equality, this administration has been as consistent in advancing the cause of progress as any we have seen. There’s still a lot more to be done, and we at HRC look forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration and partners in Congress to ensure that essential reforms – including the LGBTQ+ protections in the Equality Act and the voting rights safeguards currently before the Senate – become the law of the land.”

Some of the highlights of policy advancements during the administration’s first year in office relating to LGBTQ+ rights include:

On his first day in office, the president issued an executive order that required the federal government to align its policies with the Supreme Court’s landmark Bostock decision.

In June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court of the United States affirmed that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a form of prohibited sex discrimination. However, the Trump Justice Department failed to adequately instruct the federal government to implement the ruling, leading to dangerous misinterpretations. That state of affairs was addressed via President Biden’s first-day order.

Within their first week in the office, the White House put out an executive order repealing the Trump-era ban on transgender military service and ensuring transgender service members are able to serve openly.

After extensive study by the Pentagon, the Obama administration and the leadership of the Pentagon moved forward with the elimination of the transgender military ban and allowed transgender service members to serve openly. In July 2017, President Trump announced a full ban on Twitter without any consultation with Pentagon leaders. President Biden, in his first week in office, issued an executive order reversing the ban.

The Department of Housing & Urban Development withdrew a Trump-era proposal to gut the equal access rule.

The federal agency withdrew Trump-era proposed changes to the Equal Access Rule (EAR). The Obama administration’s EAR ensures non-discrimination protections in HUD-funded housing and programs based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. It also protects LGBTQ+ families and ensures people seeking emergency housing are housed safely in accordance with their gender identity.

The State Department announced changes to passport gender markers to include intersex, non-binary people.

The Biden–Harris Administration announced in June 2021 that the U.S. Department of State would begin the process of including a non-binary gender marker and have modernized existing requirements for updating gender markers on United States passports — a policy that will impact millions of individuals in the U.S., including 1.2 million non-binary adults, 2 million transgender people, and as many as 5.5 million people who were born intersex. The first such passport was issued in October 2021, with the expectation that routine applications will be taken in 2022.

The administration formed an interagency working group focused on safety, inclusion and opportunity for transgender people.

President Biden in June announced the establishment of an interagency working group led out of the White House to coordinate policies to advance safety, economic opportunity, and inclusion for transgender people. The group includes participants from the Departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education, Homeland Security, Labor, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Defense.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg became the first Senate-confirmed member of the president’s cabinet to be openly LGBTQ+.

The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and presidential candidate was confirmed on a bipartisan basis with a vote of 86-13. As a candidate, he had been the first openly LGBTQ+ person to win a presidential primary or caucus.

Dr. Rachel Levine was confirmed as Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health & Human Services and promoted to four-star admiral.

Levine, the former Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, became the first openly transgender person to be sworn in to a Senate-confirmed position in March. Levine was further recognized through a promotion to four-star admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service Commission Corps, becoming the country’s first openly transgender four-star officer.

HRC’s timeline of the LGBTQ+ related policies and achievements during President Biden’s first year details these and other noteworthy milestones paving the way toward a more equitable future for all LGBTQ+ people.

Even in light of the manifest accomplishments of the past year, a great deal of work remains to be done. In November 2020, the Human Rights Campaign released the Blueprint for Positive Change, a document detailing more than 80 policy changes that the administration should put into effect that would meaningfully improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people. Many of those proposals still await action, and their implementation, along with passage of the Equality Act, would help to guarantee for LGBTQ+ people for decades to come that they can participate fully in every part of society.

Among the needed policy changes, some of the most urgent include:

Ending the FDA’s discriminatory ban on blood donation from men who have sex with men, which can also help address the national blood crisis.

The FDA’s policy does not treat persons with similar risks in a similar way. Currently, donors are deferred based on their membership in a group — in this case, all men who have sex with men — rather than engagement in risky behavior. HRC has strongly encouraged FDA to revise the donor questionnaire based on an individual risk assessment of sexual behaviors upon which all donors are evaluated equally, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.

Prohibiting the practice of conversion therapy as a fraudulent business practice.

So-called “conversion therapy,” sometimes known as “reparative therapy,” is a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Such practices have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization for decades. HRC supports legislative and policy efforts to curtail the unscientific and dangerous practice of sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts.

Rescinding and replacing regulations restricting coverage of Section 1557 of the ACA.

The Trump administration finalized a rule implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act in 2020 designed to eliminate explicit protections from discrimination based on sex stereotyping and gender identity, thereby sanctioning discrimination against LGBTQ people, particularly transgender and non-binary people, in federally-funded health care programs and activities. The rule was blocked by a preliminary injunction in response to a lawsuit filed by the Human Rights Campaign.

Eliminating discrimination against beneficiaries in charitable choice and faith-based initiatives.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was designed to protect minority religious groups' constitutional right to freely exercise their religious beliefs. Despite this focused, straightforward intent, individuals and businesses have worked to distort RFRA into a blank check to discriminate or to impose their religious beliefs on others. When LGBTQ+ people, religious minorities and women need to access the social safety net, they need to know that when they go to a federally funded entity, such as a nonprofit, for example, that they won't be turned away based on that entity's religious beliefs.

Continuing to appoint LGBTQ+ people at all levels of government, and ensuring that these appointees reflect the full diversity of the community.

Even after achieving a number of LGBTQ+ firsts with the range of appointments in the first year of the Biden administration, there remain positions that no openly LGBTQ+ person has ever held. Greater representation of this growing population within the ranks of government will serve to ensure that key marginalized groups are better served and treated equitably.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ+ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work, and in every community.


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