Biden’s first year in office has been strewn with clouds of concern for our global climate crisis, vaccination descent, capitol riot investigations and calls for police and prison system reform — just to name a few. This time in our lives is unlike any other. The interconnectedness of our political upheaval is shedding light on the many facets of human rights that are long overdue for legal redress. After four long years of incessant conservative, anti-human rights legislation and back pedaling by the prior administration, the Biden administration has had a lot of cleaning up to do, and is meeting intense resistance.
With this said, here’s an overview of 2021 – the good and bad that the LGBTQ+ community has seen throughout the year.
At the beginning of the year, our much adored “Mayor” Pete Buttigieg, was appointed Transportation Secretary and the first openly LGBTQ+ person confirmed by the Senate to lead a department and hold a Cabinet-level position in United States history. This appointment was long overdue since the last attempt by former President Clinton in 1999.
In March, our very own, Dr. Rachel Levine, became the Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human services and is the first openly transgender official confirmed by Senate. This critical appointment of Pete Buttigieg and Dr. Levin into such a relevant positions of power marks a triumphant victory for representation in the Cabinet.
Biden also appointed two LGBTQ+ women into top ranking military positions. Filipino-American Gina Ortiz Jones was appointed Air Force Undersecretary and is the first out lesbian in American history to serve as undersecretary of a military branch. Second, as the assistant secretary of defense for readiness, Shawn Skelly is the first out transgender person to hold this position and is also the highest-ranking out transgender defense official in U.S. history.
Many LGBTQ+ advocates and allies were elected to local offices and governments in the November off-year elections, many of which were landmark victories. For example, Danica Roem, who became the first transgender lawmaker in 2017 was re-elected into the Virginia House of Delegates and will remain the longest serving out transgender elected official in the United States. Xander Orenstein became the first non-binary candidate in the U.S. elected to a judicial position winning a seat on the Allegheny County Magisterial District Court in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Moreover, the Orenstein campaign consisted of a 100% LGBTQ+ staff, spreading awareness and opportunity into our community even further. Overall, 2021 elections marks the first time in American history that more than 1,000 elected officials serving in office are out queer or trans folkx.
Overall, we have seen a 21% increase in LGBTQ+ political representation in elected office since 2019 and that has not gone unnoticed by opponents of human rights.
2021 marks the greatest legislative attack on transgender rights that America has ever seen. To get a sense of the increase in discriminatory legislation, let’s look at some numbers — by March of 2021, the number of transgender discrimination bills had already surpassed the number of similar bills in all of 2020. The jump in the number of bills from 2019 was also startling, going from 19 bills to 66 bills in 2020, and already over 117 bills in 2021 to date.
As of last week, Attorney Generals from 20 states have sued the Biden administration regarding federal sex discrimination protection for LGBTQ+ individuals. These states include the standard hateful states including, Tennessee Alabama, Mississippi and South Dakota to name a few. These suits are headed by the office of Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, claiming the 2020 U.S. Supreme court ruling regarding anti-discrimination protections for transgender workers were improperly extended into the U.S. Department of education (DOE) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in June of this year. They stated these agencies “[h]ad violated the Administrative Procedure Act by not going through the rulemaking procedures required by the law.” Slatery is claiming usurpation on the behalf of these agencies for their interpretation and application of these protections.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, upheld antidiscrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity in Supreme Court case Bostock vs. Clayton. In June, the DOE held that because Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 took verbiage from Title VII, barring the same discrimination in federally funded educational programs, it applies in the same way.
The previous Supreme Court ruling in Bostock failed to address specific applications of discrimination such as sex-segregated facilities (i.e. bathrooms and locker rooms) as well as participation in sports for transgender students. Last year, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that Title IX protects transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice in GG v. Gloucester County School Board. This June the Supreme Court declined to take up this case, again leaving legislation passed narrow and many safety and discrimination concerns unaddressed.
These states are attacking the most vulnerable and at risk – transgender youth – and they are challenging rights of transgender individuals in public sectors such as schools, including curriculum bans and sports participation, workplaces, ID restrictions, and the biggest outlying increase – access to gender affirming healthcare. Many of these lawsuits are being funded and supported by conservative legal groups, such as the Alliance Defending Freedom. A strong response on a federal level will be needed to contend with these unscientific, unsubstantiated, and discriminatory efforts of exclusionary legislation. The Biden administration has shown many systematic and legislative protections thus far for the LGBTQ+ community, but we must stay vigilant in advocating for equity and equality.
The current administration has shown diligent attention to LGBTQ+ advocacy through executive order and legislation. Examples of this include:
- restoring the recognition of Pride month in June, Vice President (VP) Harris became the first VP in history to march in a Pride parade
- providing executive orders for Bostock and Equity Orders
- reversing Trump-era limitations on Bostock
- repealing the ban on Transgender military service
- placing a halt on Health and Human Services Trump rule for discrimination
- backing Fair Housing Act to protect LGBTQ+
- supporting Equality act and has reviewed policy for support of transgender veterans
- Executive Order of Title IX
- enforcing the Equal Credit Opportunity Act
- recognizing the Transgender Day of Visibility
- releasing a memo from the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Transgender student protections
- revoking Trump-era attempt to convolute the Equal Access Rule
- DOJ release on fair treatment of incarcerated transgender individuals
- non-discrimination protections in healthcare
- expanding birthright citizenship for babies born to same-sex couples overseas
- offering new passport gender markers through the State Department.
Much of the current administration’s work this past year can be seen as encouraging; proper representation in positions of power is a critical step towards protection and equity for all humans.
Amidst all the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric in 2021, we have risen to the occasion, and this is a means for celebration — let us stay hopeful, spread our awareness of the importance of protecting one another and never stop demanding the inclusivity, equity and diversity we deserve for ourselves, our legal system, and in our government.