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With stunning speed, Biden halts Trump's anti-LGBTQ assault
Bigots are enraged as "sleepy Joe" suddenly hit them like a freight train.
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The pace at which Joe Biden moved on a sweeping executive order protecting LGBTQ rights was jarring — even for those of us who cheered it.
“Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports,” Biden’s executive order states, using as its underpinning the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling last year that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are covered under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which protects against discrimination in employment “because of sex.” The executive order applies the fundamental basis of the ruling to other areas in which people are discriminated in the same way.
The order, which some hailed as the most substantial and far-reaching order on LGBTQ rights in history, calls on all agencies within the government to initiate a review and comply, rolling back policies put in place by the Trump administration allowing discrimination in areas from employment and housing to healthcare and adoption, and furthering equality in education, immigration policy and so much more.
“Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes,” the order states. “People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination.”
This, on day one, was pleasantly jolting to a lot of us because we remember when Democratic presidential candidates made bold promises — as Biden did — only to get mired in opposition to LGBTQ equality once they took office, slow-walking or stalling progress.
Bill Clinton promised in 1992 to end the then-existing Pentagon regulation that banned gays and lesbians serving in the military with “the stroke of a pen.” But upon taking office he flinched, failing to move decisively as he faced an organized opposition. We wound up with the terrible “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy codified into law and harming lives for years. (And we eventually saw Clinton signing the odious Defense of Marriage Act in the middle of the night.)
Over 15 years later, President Obama, who ran on ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” and furthering LGBTQ rights, also faced the wrath of the radical right upon taking office. His administration put the issue on the back burner. Obama had to be hounded by queer protesters — who chained themselves to the White House gates and interrupted his speeches — to move on ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which he did in 2010 and, in his second term, to supporting marriage equality, helping to change American public opinion.
Obama went on to make enormous progress on LGBTQ rights, so much so that it in part drove religious conservatives to back Trump — no paragon of religious virtue — in a transactional action that would lead to massive rollbacks on LGBTQ equality, marking Trump undoubtedly as the most anti-LGBTQ president in history.
Biden, who famously came out for marriage equality as vice president in 2012 shortly before Obama actually did — in what some attributed to his blurting it out in an unplanned moment — didn’t make the mistakes of his Democratic predecessors on LGBTQ equality and a whole host of issues, signing 17 executive orders on day one. On queer rights, part of this was the cultural progress we’d made over decades, for sure, as Clinton and Obama faced opposition even from Democrats and from liberals in their own base.
But it was also clearly the recognition by the Biden team that they needed to move at lightning speed, before anyone even knew what hit them — as Republican presidents have done with executive orders rolling back abortion rights immediately upon taking office, for example — and that the president had to be bold and confident. The Biden people, many hailing from the Obama era, appear to have learned that the strategy of slow-walking and “studying” changes, intended to downplay them and thus put them under the radar, doesn’t work: You have to move quickly and put it behind you.
All of this is a great sign. James Essex of the ACLU noted that,"It is such a relief to have a government that is committed to preventing discrimination as opposed to enabling it,” even as the ACLU pointed out that there’s more Biden as president can do, particularly with regard to transgender rights.
Evangelical Christian leaders, meanwhile, are apoplectic, not knowing what hit them.
Tony Perkins at the Family Research Council, the preeminent anti-LGBTQ hate group, was among the Christian nationalist leaders who were blown away.
"With a stroke of a pen,” he whined, “President Joe Biden has turned 50-year-old civil rights legislation on its head, hollowing out protections for people of faith.”
Biden had done nothing of the kind, and actually was only working off of the very Supreme Court decision in which conservative, Trump-appointed Neal Gorsuch — a “religious liberty” crusader — wrote the majority opinion.
Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation focused in on transgender rights, thundering that Biden had “signed a radical divisive transgender executive order that threatens the privacy and safety of women in single-sex facilities, equality and fairness in single-sex sports, and good medicine based on the reality that males and females are biologically different.” He and other extremists helped push the Twitter hashtag #BidenErasedWomen.
This too was ludicrous, in addition to being horribly transphobic. Women were not “erased” — and it’s pretty rich hearing Trump supporters worried about the fate of women as they supported the most misogynistic president we’ve seen in our lifetimes. But rather, transgender people’s protections — under a Supreme Court decision interpreting federal law — were recognized and enhanced.
Some in the media are already talking about backlash — or, bogusly, questioning if this messes with Biden’s message of “unity.” But Biden, in the 17 day one executive orders, which included one ending Trump’s Islamophobic travel ban and another rooting out systemic racism in the government workforce, has sent a clear signal that civil rights will not be negotiated.
Like rabid dogs, enemies of equality always look for the vulnerabilities and fear among Democrats. And they exploit that moving forward. Biden is sending a message that he, as president, will do whatever he can to further these rights, and that he’s not afraid of that opposition.
That will serve him — and us — well when Democrats propose legislation, such as the LGBTQ Equality Act and other civil rights bills, telegraphing to Republicans that we’re not going to compromise on equality. Going big and bold is the only way to go.