Biden says many LGBT Americans lack 'basic protection', reiterates support for Equality Act

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House. | White House/Adam Schultz)

President Joe Biden on Monday touted his administration’s commitment to advance LGBT rights at home and across the globe to mark the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

“My Administration will always stand with the LGBTQI+ community,” Biden said in a statement, promising to continue to engage with allies and partners globally to advance the human rights of LGBT individuals. 

“Already, we have rolled back discriminatory polices [sic] targeting LGBTQI+ Americans, and we have made historic appointments of LGBTQI+ individuals to the highest levels of our government.”

Monday marks the anniversary of when the World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1990.

Released Monday morning, a White House fact sheet explained that the administration is implementing several measures as part of a February memorandum regarding the rights of “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI+) Persons Around the World.”

Measures include combating laws against homosexuality and transgender identity, protecting refugees who identify as LGBT, responding to human rights abuses of LGBT individuals and rescinding what the White House called “inconsistent policies” by the previous administration.

One example is the Department of Defense’s interim guidance “to stop any adverse personnel actions targeting transgender individuals initiated under the previous administration.” 

“USAID has also revised the ‘Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy’ and the ‘Policy on Counter-Trafficking in Persons from 2017-2021,’ that removed or reduced issues specific to LGBTQI+ persons,” the fact sheet adds. 

“USAID and other government officials responsible for LGBTQI+ human rights re-established close ties with programs responsible for broader human rights and gender issues and re-engaged with missions around the world.”

White House officials and USAID Administrator Samantha Power participated in an event Monday afternoon to recognize the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia along with faith and community leaders. 

In his statement, Biden said that “COVID-19 and rising authoritarianism around the world continue to widen economic, social, and safety gaps for LGBTQI+ people.” 

Biden added that while there are around 70 countries that still criminalize same-sex relationships, LGBT Americans lack "basic protection in 25 states, and they continue to face discrimination in housing, education, and public services."

The president expressed support for the Equality Act, a controversial piece of legislation passed by the House of Representatives that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights law.

Critics have argued that the Equality Act would curb the rights of religious groups and others who may object to homosexuality or transgender ideology for moral or theological reasons. The legislation has stalled in the Senate.

In March, a group of African-American clergy and public figures, among them megachurch pastor A.R. Bernard and former NFL tight end Benjamin Watson, sent an open letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to the Equality Act.

“The Equality Act is a reflection of our broken system, not an example of the civic spirit and good faith measures necessary to heal it,” read the letter in part.

“It would remove many of the basic rights that allow religious organizations to operate according to the tenets of their faith. It would allow LGBT rights to be used as a sword against faith institutions rather than a shield to protect the vulnerable.”

In February 2019, the Trump administration called on other countries to end the criminalization of homosexuality.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, an openly gay official who served in the Trump administration, told NBC News at the time that it was “unbelievable to think that in today’s world, a 32-year-old man could be hanged in Iran simply for being gay.”

“People understand, religious people, individuals who may not always be in the LGBT fight, they understand that criminalizing homosexuality is absolutely wrong,” Grenell said.

During his address to the 74th U.N. General Assembly in September 2019, Trump declared that the U.S. "stand[s] in solidarity with LGBTQ people who live in countries that punish, jail, or execute individuals based upon sexual orientation.”

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