In his first joint address to Congress, President Joe Biden on Wednesday sent an unequivocal message to the transgender community: "To all transgender Americans watching at home, especially the young people. You’re so brave. I want you to know your president has your back."
His remarks come amid a wave of state bills targeting transgender people, particularly trans youth. As of this week, at least six states have signed bills into law that restrict gender-affirming care for minors or ban trans student athletes from competing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity. On Wednesday, hours before Biden's speech, West Virginia’s governor signed a bill into law that prevents transgender students from competing on girls sports teams from middle school through college.
There are currently over 200 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration across at least 30 states, with more than half of these bills targeting transgender people, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group.
During his speech, Biden also reiterated his support for the Equality Act, federal legislation that would modify existing civil rights laws to add protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Equality Act passed the House in 2019 but has yet not received a vote in the Senate. With Democrats now in control of the Senate, the bill’s supporters are more optimistic than ever about its chances of becoming law.
Following Biden’s speech, Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the administration has “made it clear through their actions that they are allies in the fight for equality and justice for LGBTQ people.”
“Especially in this moment, when LGBTQ rights are under attack in several states across the country, it was important to see President Biden make it clear tonight that his priority would be continuing our shared fight to ensure that every American has access to the fullness of opportunity our country affords,” David said in a statement. “To that point, we were especially heartened to hear the president specifically uplift his support for transgender people and particularly affirm transgender kids.”
Some transgender advocates, however, wanted more specifics from the president.
“I’m very thankful for this. But what does having my back mean? Like, if the bills pass in Texas will you keep them from putting my mom in jail?” tweeted Kai Shappley, an 11-year-old transgender girl who testified before the Texas Legislature against a bill that would make it a felony for doctors and parents to provide gender-affirming care such as hormones or puberty blockers to trans minors.
Gillian Branstetter, media manager at the National Women's Law Center and a longtime transgender advocate, said Biden's message to trans people was "a long-overdue recognition by an American president of trans people's fight for safety, dignity, and equality under the law."
"But amid a coordinated onslaught of anti-transgender legislation, those words would ring a little truer once backed by actions from his Cabinet and, specifically, the incredible team of civil rights leaders he's appointed at the Department of Justice," Branstetter said in an email. She added that Vanita Gupta, who was confirmed last week as associate attorney general, led the Justice Department's lawsuit against North Carolina over House Bill 2, which required transgender people to use the bathroom of the sex listed on their birth certificate.