Biden Orders Federal Agencies to Target LGBTQ Discrimination

Inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States
President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office on January 20.
Reuters/Tom Brenner

Just hours after the inauguration, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing federal agencies to follow the Bostock v. Clayton Supreme Court ruling protecting workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. While the Supreme Court ruling was confined to employment, the administration also directed agencies to more broadly interpret all federal sex discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The administration notably offered a warning shot to schools and other institutions by warning that they must respect transgender students’ “access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports” — an important point in light of the Trump administration’s relentless bid to restrict the rights of trans students and sideline trans student-athletes.

In announcing the executive order, the administration voiced a commitment to provide more safety to queer, transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people.

“Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love,” the order states. “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports. 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 acknowledges the challenges of LGBTQ people from multiple marginalized groups, including the higher rates of bias targeting Black transgender people.

“Discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation manifests differently for different individuals, and it often overlaps with other forms of prohibited discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of race or disability,” the order states.

The order does not apply to all federal agencies, however. The text notes that “independent agencies” do not necessarily apply to the order, though they are encouraged to follow it.

The executive order was welcomed by LGBTQ groups across the country.

“Biden’s executive order is the most substantive, wide-ranging executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity ever issued by a United States president,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said in a written statement. “Today, millions of Americans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their president and their government believe discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is not only intolerable but illegal.”

Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal, praised the administration for making immediate moves to address LGBTQ rights, but he is keeping pressure on the new administration to follow through on its promises.

“Following their historic campaign that ran on a strong, pro-equality platform, the Biden-Harris Administration is poised to be the most LGBTQ-friendly and progressive in our nation’s history,” Jennings continued. “And we’re already seeing the administration make good on its promise with the signing of several ‘day one’ executive orders that not only strengthen protections for LGBTQ people, but also reverse some of Trump’s most racist, repugnant executive actions. Lambda Legal stands ready to support the new administration in its continued efforts to restore dignity, guarantee fairness, and ensure justice for LGBTQ people, people living with HIV, and the countless other communities who have been marginalized and targeted by Trump’s four-year assault on civil rights.”

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