President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at combating a historic number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures across the country.
The order will direct federal health and education agencies to expand access to gender affirming care and advance LGBTQ-inclusive learning environments at American schools.
It will also curb federal funding for the debunked practice of “conversion therapy,” which nearly every leading U.S. medical association has condemned, and ask the Federal Trade Commission to consider whether the practice constitutes an unfair or deceptive act.
The president's order comes during LBGTQ Pride month and as advocates fight against a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in states across the country this year — more than 320, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest LGBTQ advocacy group.
"We’re in a battle for the soul of the nation," the president said to a group of LGBTQ activists and Democratic lawmakers at a White House signing ceremony Wednesday. "And when I look around this room here and at all of you here today, it's a battle I know we will win."
"My message to all the young people: Just be you. You are loved. You are understood. You do belong," Biden added. "I want you to know that as your president, all of us on this stage, have your back."
A bulk of the bills signed into law in recent months — 24 in 13 states, according to the HRC — aim to limit access to gender affirming care for transgender youth, prohibit trans girls and women from competing on girls' sports teams in school, and bar the instruction of LGBTQ issues in school.
Under the executive order, a coordinating committee will also be established to lead efforts across federal agencies to strengthen the collection of data on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It will also direct the Department of Health and Human Services to expand resources to address LGBTQ youth suicide and homelessness and study barriers same-sex married couples face in accessing government benefits.
LGBTQ advocates applauded Biden for signing the new order.
"This historic executive order will advance long-sought, LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices that will help save young LGBTQ lives," Amit Paley, who is the chief executive officer and executive director of The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention organization, said in a statement. "It’s past time that we put an end to the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion ‘therapy,’ and expand access to the affirming care LGBTQ young people actually need to survive and thrive."
The new measures coincide with a recent surge in charged rhetoric surrounding how and whether children should learn about LGBTQ issues.
In recent months, conservative lawmakers, television pundits and other public figures have accused opponents of a newly enacted Florida education law, which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, of trying to “groom” or “indoctrinate” children. The word “grooming” has long been used to mischaracterize LGBTQ people, particularly gay men and transgender women, as child sex abusers.
Advocates have been urging public officials against using the charged rhetoric, warning that it could cause violence directed at LGBTQ Americans.
At least three LGBTQ events were targeted by white nationalist groups last weekend, with police arresting 31 people at an annual Pride in the Park event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on charges of suspicion of conspiracy to riot. Those arrested came to the event with gas masks and shields.
"Violent attacks on the community including ongoing attacks on transgender women of color make our nation less safe," Biden said, referring to last weekend's arrests. "They're disgusting and they have to stop."
The president has been urging Congress to pass comprehensive LGBTQ rights legislation in the form of the Equality Act. But after passing in the House last year, the bill stalled in the Senate. Biden again called on Congress to take action on Wednesday.