Biden Advocates for Equality Act in State of the Union Address

U.S. President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington
President Joe Biden speaks at the State of the Union on March 1.
REUTERS/Saul Loeb

Against the backdrop of an urgent legal battle against transphobia in Texas, President Joe Biden used his State of the Union Address to urge Congress to pass comprehensive LGBTQ non-discrimination protections.

“And for our LGBTQ+ Americans, let’s finally get the bipartisan Equality Act to my desk,” Biden said in his speech at the Capitol on March 1. “The onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans and their families is wrong. As I said last year, especially to our younger transgender Americans, I will always have your back as your president, so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential.”

The president’s rhetoric brought the Equality Act back into the national spotlight at a time when the bill has faced resistance in a divided Senate. The House of Representatives most recently passed the Equality Act last year, but the bill does not appear to have sufficient Senate support to overcome the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the landmark Bostock v. Clayton County decision in 2020 set a new legal precedent and represented a major step forward in the fight for non-discrimination protections — particularly in the area of employment — but there is still a need for Congress to pass the Equality Act. That fight is even more critical now as State Legislatures scramble to advance laws targeting trans youth in sports, healthcare, and other areas. Just hours before Biden’s speech, Lamba Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit seeking to block Texas from investigating families of trans youth who receive gender-affirming care.

A wide range of LGBTQ leaders acknowledged the president’s remarks on the Equality Act as they voiced their thoughts about the State of the Union address.

“With so many urgent domestic and international priorities to address, we are grateful to President Biden for being sure to highlight the inequalities that LGBTQ Americans continue to face here at home,” said Kasey Suffredini, CEO and national campaign director of Freedom for All Americans, a national bipartisan organization dedicated to passing federal non-discrimination protections. “Discrimination against LGBTQ people, especially those of us who are transgender, still takes place too often in too many parts of the country.”

SAGE, a national organization serving LGBTQ seniors, also called on Congress to follow through on the president’s request to pass the Equality Act.

“The Equality Act passed in the US House just weeks after President Biden was inaugurated, but it has still yet to have a vote in the Senate,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in a written statement. “A year later, SAGE is echoing President Biden’s statement in the State of the Union address that urged Congress to pass this crucial legislation. In order to ensure LGBTQ+ elders and all LGBTQ+ people are protected from discrimination, wherever they live, Congress must act now.”

In a series of tweets, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) expressed appreciation for Biden’s speech and thanked him for showing “leadership.”

“The rights of trans people and our loved ones shouldn’t depend on the state we live in,” NCTE wrote in a tweet.

Some LGBTQ leaders offered a more balanced reaction to the State of the Union. David Johns, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, welcomed Biden’s renewed support for the Equality Act but challenged the president’s insistence that the state of America is “strong.”

“The state of this union is anything but strong, especially not for those of us who live and labor under white supremacy and systemic oppression,” Johns wrote in a tweet.” And if we told the truth about the continued attacks against democracy, the fight to protect it would be easier. Words matter.”

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, meanwhile, responded to the president’s comments on mental health crisis by emphasizing that the issue is compounded by transphobic sentiment in numerous states.

“While we are grateful to @POTUS for mentioning the deadly mental health crisis in America, what is clear is that the wave of anti-trans/LGBTQ laws sweeping the nation is directly attributable to the continuing deteriorating mental health of ALL #LGBTQ youth,” the organization noted in a tweet. “Until we end this cycle of hatred & bigotry from politicians in statehouses around the nation (particularly against #trans youth), we’ll assuredly continue to see tragically high rates of depression & suicide amongst this most vulnerable population.”

Entertainment leaders also put the queer community in focus during the State of the Union. “Pose” star Angelica Ross, who delivered an LGBTQ State of the Union address for Logo TV, called on folks to focus on the needs of Black trans Americans.

“It’s time we have an honest and intersectional conversation centering the most vulnerable among us,” Ross said. “And if anyone from the Biden-Harris administration is tuning in, I’m always open to discussing any of this further.”

Among other groups, Pride at Work, a national group fighting for queer people in the workplace, commended the president for his words on the Equality Act and hailed his support of the PRO Act, which would amend labor laws to protect employees when they organize and engage in collective bargaining.

With midterm elections looming — and the possibility of the GOP regaining control of one or both chambers of Congress — some fear that the window of opportunity to pass non-discrimination protections is narrowing. It remains unclear whether Democrats will instead explore a compromise in a bid to secure the necessary votes from Senate conservatives.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently delivered remarks at the LGBT Community Center in Manhattan, where he committed to passing a federal LGBTQ non-discrimination bill. When Gay City News asked whether lawmakers would consider compromising, Schumer said, “I wouldn’t do it without talking to all of the groups.”

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