We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts, if we show a little tolerance and humility, and if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes — as my mom would say, ‘Just for a moment, stand in their shoes.’
—Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Full of emotion and with tears of joy in my eyes, I watched the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and Vice President Kamala Harris. I was emotional because of the social distancing necessary because of the previous administration’s inaction. Even more so, I was emotional because of the massive number of troops needed to keep our government safe from domestic terrorists because the former president gave them sanctuary and support. The last four years have been long and horrifying as an aspiring dictator tried to destroy American democracy. That horror ended at noon yesterday, and a new era of hope began. I have never been so proud of a person being inaugurated as President of the United States. He is a truly deserving person who overcame so much to get to this point in history. It took Biden 50 years of public service (he took office as a member of the New Castle County Council on January 5, 1971) to reach the pinnacle of his career, President of the United States, and we will be better for it.
More than just believing in the potential of Biden’s presidency, I think we’re entering a period of the most LGBTQ+ friendly administration in the history of the United States. Biden and Harris have been supporters of LGBTQ+ rights for many years. They did not support our rights because poll numbers told them it was okay to do so. They did it because it was and is the right thing to do. Biden has promised to pass the Equality Act within his first 100 days as president, launching landmark legislation that will prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system. Describing his support for equality, Biden harks back to a story from his youth when as a teen, he saw two men kissing. “Joey, it’s simple. They love each other,” he says his father told him.
For LGBTQ+ people, visibility has always been the cornerstone of our fight for equality and acceptance, and it was growing by leaps and bounds before the 2016 election. President Obama famously lit the White House in rainbow colors after the historic passage of marriage equality in 2015. LGBTQ+ advocates were invited to White House policy roundtables. Obama regularly congratulated LGBTQ+ notables when they came out and included LGBTQ+ Americans in Pride month and World AIDS Day proclamations. Those leaps forward began being eroded before the last president’s inauguration ceremony ended. From day one, the highest office in our country began a rollback of LGBTQ+ visibility that would soon be paired with rollbacks of LGBTQ+ policies and an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. During that weird inauguration four years ago, the LGBTQ+ page on the official White House website was removed. The previous administration proceeded to ban transgender military service and appointed many anti-LGBTQ+ judges at every level of the judicial system. While some of the previous administration’s attacks were front and center, many of the attacks on the LGBTQ+ community were silent and sinister. The new administration has a lot of work to do to correct the wrongs committed over the past four years and put LGBTQ+ rights back on track for the future. As the Biden administration begins, we must start our healing and vigilance for equality both as a nation and the LGBTQ+ community itself. Yesterday, we inaugurated the most LGBTQ-inclusive administration in American history; we must clean up the mess left behind by the previous administration.
Biden has led the way for national politicians to support LGBTQ+ equality. In 2012, during Obama’s reelection campaign, Biden surprised the political world during an appearance on Meet the Press by becoming the first national leader to support same-sex marriage publicly. At the time, the country was split on whether it should be legalized, and many privately supportive politicians were publicly avoiding the issue. Back then, Biden’s strong statement was seen as another of his political gaffes, primarily because of President Barack Obama’s reluctance to tackle the issue. Biden made history at that moment but faced criticism in some quarters for supposedly putting other Democrats in a tough position. Instead, his remark — that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage — seemed to galvanize progressives and made a case for marriage equality an accessible one for many skeptical moderates. And now, nearly 70 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, including half of Republicans. Yet, far more telling is Joe Biden’s history of support for transgender and non-binary people. A week before the election in 2012, Biden told the mother of a transgender child that discrimination against trans people is “the civil rights issue of our time,” at that moment the most assertive public statement of support by any national leader specifically addressing trans rights. Biden is not a politician who publicly supports LGBTQ+ people then betray us in private. His commitment to equality runs deep. For Biden, what matters is that all people can live and work in their full authenticity and provide for their families without threat to their safety and dignity. To him, we are not LGBTQ+ people in need of enhanced cultural framing but people who happen to be LGBTQ+ and deserve to have an equal stake in society just like everyone else, no better or worse.
Like our new president, Vice President Kamala Harris, a devoted LGBTQ+ rights advocate, fought for same-sex marriage and has promised to end the epidemic of violence against trans people. As California’s Attorney General, Harris led the opposition to California’s gay marriage ban in 2008. The Human Rights Campaign has given Harris a perfect lifetime rating. She has turned words into actions and will hopefully continue doing so. Harris publicly backed several decisive moments that benefited the LGBTQ+ community. After marriage equality was restored to California in 2013, Harris officiated the first marriage as a bold statement. As a senator, Harris introduced legislation to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination. In 2018, she introduced the Do No Harm Act to prevent the use of religious beliefs to be used to discriminate against the community. Harris has often been vocal against the former administration, condemning the president’s removal of LGBTQ+ health-related information across federal websites. Harris also vocalized her support for allowing transgender people to have equal access to public restrooms.
Biden and Harris have been clear about their goals for LGBTQ+ equality. On his first day as president, Biden issued an executive order reinforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids the federal government from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity, a policy that reverses action by the previous administration. The new White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Wednesday that Biden will soon reverse the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military. Biden and Harris support ensuring the Equality Act is passed and signed into law, making the act a priority of their administration. Despite marriage equality and employment protections being affirmed by the Supreme Court, LGBTQ+ people still face outright discrimination in housing, credit, education, public accommodations, federally-funded programs, and jury service in most of the United States. Trans and non-binary people — particularly Black women — are experiencing an ongoing epidemic of fatal violence, with 2020 being the deadliest year on record. There is much work to be done.
Biden and Harris have not been perfect on LGBTQ+ rights throughout their political careers, but they have evolved on the issue, and they have evolved much quicker than many of their counterparts. There are many issues that the previous administration and many Republicans have used to fuel what Biden referred to in his inaugural address as an “uncivil war.” LGBTQ+ rights are often at the top of conservatives lists, along with abortion rights, to incite their hate-filled audiences. Conservatives, especially the religious right, see us as undeserving of equality because they see us as sinners while ignoring their own sins. They oppose equality for all those who don’t look like them. Biden will be a leader for all Americans, and he is off to a good start in restoring the setbacks of the previous administration. I believe he will expand those rights in his time in office. There is a lot of hope for the future of LGBTQ+ rights.