Joe Biden is the most pro-LGBTQ+ president in history. Not only is Kamala Harris is not just the most pro-LGBTQ vice-president, 19 years ago she was marrying same-sex couples in San Francisco when marriage equality was only legal in a few places. Harris became one of the first elected officials anywhere in the U.S. to marry same-sex couples in 2004 while serving as district attorney of San Francisco. As California attorney general, Harris played a pivotal role in the state’s year’s-long battle over marriage equality.
In 2004 when Harris was doing that, Sen. John Kerry was running for president against incumbent President George W. Bush. Bush was pushing an anti-gay agenda and campaigning against efforts to legalize same-sex marriage. Kerry avoided the subject of LGBTQ rights as much as possible.
Nearly 20 years later, Biden-Harris are tag-teaming to make their administration the most pro-actively pro-LGBTQ in history. Committed to actions for LGBTQ people since day one, Biden-Harris have been faced with the wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation that has overtaken state legislatures, pushed by Republicans who have found a sweet spot between parental rights issues and discomfort over and lack of understanding of LGBTQ issues, particularly trans healthcare.
The administration — largely via social media as well as White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who is openly lesbian, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg who is also openly gay — has consistently made statements supportive of the LGBTQ community while also pushing back against anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from the right and MAGA Republicans. In February, during his State of the Union address, Biden reaffirmed his commitment to LGBTQ people, saying, “Let’s also pass the bipartisan Equality Act to ensure LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender young people, can live with safety and dignity.”
During a CNN interview last month with openly gay actor and former Obama administration advisor Kal Penn for “The Daily Show,” Biden said, “What’s going on in Florida is, as my mother would say, close to sinful. It’s just terrible what they’re doing.”
Biden was referencing the “Don’t Say Gay” laws in Florida. He also said that “efforts to restrict the rights of trans individuals were ‘cruel.’”
Biden said, “It’s not like a kid wakes up one morning and says, You know, I decided I wanted to become a man or want to become a woman or I want to change. I mean, what are they thinking about here? They’re human beings. They love, they have feelings, they have inclinations.”
Biden continued, “It just, to me, is, I dunno, it’s cruel. And the way we do it is make sure we pass legislation like we passed on same-sex marriage. You mess with that, you’re breaking the law, and you’re going to be held accountable.”
The anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and bills have created a cultural and political divide, according to some studies. This could influence the 2024 presidential race, as the past few elections have been decided very narrowly.
Support for same-sex marriage is at an all-time high with 71% of Americans now supporting marriage equality, according to a recent Gallup Poll. But while most Americans favor protecting trans people from discrimination, fewer support policies related to medical care for gender transitions. And polling shows many are uneasy with the pace of change on trans issues. The GOP has capitalized on this. Missouri’s Republican secretary of state and recently declared gubernatorial candidate Jay Ashcroft declared that changing a person’s gender is “impossible” during a Tuesday appearance on CNN.
Ashcroft told CNN, about a ban on gender-affirming care, “It’s a lie to say you can change from a man to a woman through surgery. It’s like spray painting a brick of lead and saying, ‘look, I have a brick of gold’… clearly major medical associations don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Biden is expected to continue to push back against this kind of rhetoric which he has previously called “dangerous.” In 2022, Biden signed an executive order to fight this historic number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures across the country.
The order directs federal health and education agencies to expand access to gender-affirming care and advance LGBTQ-inclusive learning environments in U.S. schools and limit funding for so-called “conversion therapy,” NBC News reported.
But the GOP bills keep advancing as Republicans find the issues resonating for an electorate under-educated on gender identity and the range of trans healthcare. On April 25, HRC tweeted that the advocacy organization now puts the number of anti-LGBTQ bills at 500.
“We’re working on over 500 (!!) anti-LGBTQ+ bills in 36 states right now. 36 anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been enacted in 2023. 12 of these laws ban life-saving medical care for trans youth.”
With an attached map, HRC also wrote, “This year, over 125 bills banning gender-affirming care have been introduced in state legislatures.”
The thread continues, with more details about individual states. HRC also invites people to contact their representatives and senators, providing a template to respond. But the replies beneath the HRC Twitter thread parrot GOP talking points about grooming kids and using the schools to “recruit for your movement,” as one person put it. Another just wrote “pedophiles” in all caps.
All of this means Biden and Harris will have to maintain a consistent stance as the presidential race heats up. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has become the leader in anti-LGBTQ policy and rhetoric. He is expected to announce his candidacy soon, likely at the close of the legislative session. Donald Trump remains the GOP front runner in polling, significantly ahead of DeSantis and other candidates like Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy. But Trump has a long anti-LGBTQ history, as PGN detailed throughout his presidency.
A complicating factor for Biden is the number of Senate races in 2024, including some in key swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona, but also in red states like Montana, Nevada, Ohio and West Virginia. Democrats have a one-vote lead in the Senate and can’t afford to lose a single seat. If the Democrats lose the Senate, that will impact Biden’s abilities in his second term.
GLAAD’s accountability tracker cites numerous recent instances where Biden or Harris or both have inserted concerns for LGBTQ people into their narratives, like at the April 24 ceremony to honor the nation’s best teachers, at which VP Harris raised the issue of book bans.
On April 17, Biden vowed a veto of the House bill targeting transgender students’ access to sports. In a statement the White House said, “Instead of addressing the pressing issues that families and students face today—such as raising teacher pay, keeping guns out of schools, addressing the mental health crisis our youth face, and helping students learn and recover academically from unprecedented disruptions — Congressional Republicans have instead chosen to prioritize policies that discriminate against children. If the President were presented with H.R. 734, he would veto it.”
As the 2024 race begins, Biden and Harris remain committed to LGBTQ people, their issues and their civil rights, while the GOP has chosen queer and trans people as the “culture wars” issue that will most help them secure votes moving forward.