DIVERSITY + INCLUSION
What Biden’s executive orders mean for Transgender lives in America
4th March 2021
On the day Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States, he signed a flurry of executive orders that reversed many of the discriminatory policies implemented by the preceding Trump administration. Included in these timely executive orders is the restoration of rights to transgender people and all members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Following on from an administration which stripped away the rights of transgender people, it’s clear that Biden has a real opportunity here to make lasting change when it comes to protecting transgender rights into the future.
From day one Biden has made quite an impact, but there is still a long way to go to address the damage and chaos caused by Trump that directly affected the lives of transgender people in the US over the past four years.
By doing all he could to narrow the legal definition of discrimination on the basis of sex, Trump denied trans people their rights and essential protections across multiple policy areas including military, healthcare and education.
In July 2017, through a series of tweets, Trump announced that the United States Government would no longer allow or accept transgender people serving in the US military. In April 2019 the ban came into effect, despite a number of legal challenges and objections from human rights activists.
What did this mean for aspiring trans military service members? Essentially, any person who had already transitioned to a different gender, was in need of hormone treatment, or was diagnosed with ‘gender dysphoria’ was now banned from enlisting in the US military.
Within one week of becoming President, Biden had already signed executive order 14004 ‘Enabling All Qualified Americans to Serve Their Country in Uniform’, reversing Trump’s military ban, meaning that those who identify as transgender will now be allowed to join and serve in the military in their self-identified gender.
According to the White House, ‘‘President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America’s strength is found in its diversity.’’ The executive order also calls for the immediate identification of any service members who were ‘‘involuntarily separated, discharged, or denied reenlistment or continuation of service on the basis of gender identity.’’ This executive order will have a major impact on the lives of trans people whose dreams and goals of serving in the military will no longer be put on hold because of discriminatory government policies.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, a rule was finalized by Trump to rescind protections against discrimination for trans people when it comes to access to healthcare and health insurance. By only accepting that ‘sex discrimination’ refers to discrimination faced for being male or female, protections for transgender people against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity would no longer have existed.
Deputy Executive Director of the National Centre for Transgender Equality, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, explained the precarious nature of this decision to The New York Times, highlighting how ‘‘[t]his rule opens a door for a medical provider to turn someone away for a Covid-19 test just because they happen to be transgender.”
In the historic Bostock vs. Clayton County case in 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex, under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights, covers discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
While Trump’s Justice Department did little to uphold this ruling, Biden, within less than 24 hours as President of the United States, signed executive order 13988 ‘Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.’
President of the Human Rights Campaign Alphonso David has called this executive order the most ‘‘substantive, wide-ranging executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity ever issued by a United States president.’’ He also highlighted the undoubtable impact of Biden’s actions: ‘‘By fully implementing the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Bostock, the federal government will enforce federal law to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, health care, housing, and education, and other key areas of life.’’
“The Equality Act, which was just passed by the House on February 25th, would officially amend the Civil Rights Act to specifically include protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.”
A massive step towards essential transgender representation in government was also made when Biden announced Dr Rachel Levine as his nomination for assistant secretary of health in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). If confirmed, she will become the first openly transgender person to be Senate-confirmed for a governmental role. This is a hugely important development, particularly considering the attempts of the HHS to dismantle healthcare protection for trans people during the Trump administration.
President and CEO of GLAAD Sarah Kate Ellis welcomed the announcement and told The Hill: ‘‘Under Secretary Azar, HHS rolled back healthcare protections for transgender Americans and regularly engaged in policy attacks on other marginalized communities. With Dr. Rachel Levine’s nomination, HHS is now set to be home to the first transgender Senate-confirmed federal official, a truly historic and deserved piece of visibility for transgender Americans.”
Although the executive orders signed by Biden are a welcome first step when it comes to tackling gender identity discrimination in the US, the question must be asked about what can be done in the long-run to ensure the rights of trans people are promoted and upheld?
If Biden is serious about making lasting changes when it comes to the preservation of rights and enhancement of protections for trans people, he will have to work with the Senate and House of Representatives in order to pass legislation through Congress and ensure that the crucial developments being made now cannot be easily revoked by other presidents in the future.
The Equality Act, which was just passed by the House on February 25th, would officially amend the Civil Rights Act to specifically include protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. However, passing the bill in the Senate could prove more of a challenge. Although Vice-President Harris has the tie-breaking vote, both Democrats and Republicans have fifty seats each meaning there is no guarantee that the bill will secure the requisite number of votes to pass.
Something must be done. The rights of US citizens are at stake. Now is the time to push forward and establish universal protections and laws so that the rights of transgender people will never be questioned or invalidated again.