Joe Biden has been U.S. president for less than a month, and already he has reversed much of the Trump administration’s anti-LGBTQ policies and charted a new course for equality going forward.
But questions remain about how this Catholic president will interface with U.S. bishops, with anti-LGBTQ activists, and with some advocates for intersex rights who have already criticized him.
Today is Presidents’ Day in the U.S. so, Bondings 2.0 is taking stock of the new policies from a president whose Catholic faith is on full display, as well as of the challenges that may lay ahead.
The following are some of Biden’s pro-LGBTQ actions so far:
- On his first day as president, Biden signed an executive order mandating that federal agencies abide by the Supreme Court’s Bostock decision that bans discrimination based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation.
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a new policy that under the Fair Housing Act, complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity will be investigated. According to CNN, this policy is one of the first in response to that aforementioned January executive order.
- The Biden administration is also working to stop implementation of HUD policy developed under the Trump administration and applauded by the U.S. bishops that would have allowed transgender discrimination at shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
- Biden has made prominent appointments of LGBTQ people, including Dr. Rachel Levine, a transgender woman, as Assistant Secretary of Health at the Department of Health and Human Services; Pete Buttigieg, the gay former presidential candidate, for Secretary of Transportation; and Karine Jean-Pierre, a Black gay woman, as deputy press secretary.
- Biden reversed the Trump administration’s re-imposed ban on transgender members of the military.
More broadly, Biden said in a speech on foreign policy, “To further repair our moral leadership, I’m also issuing a presidential memo to agencies to reinvigorate our leadership on the LGBTQI issues and do it internationally.” A memorandum from the administration named LGBTQ rights internationally as a priority in U.S. foreign policy, even suggesting that financial sanctions could be used for countries which continue to criminalize homosexuality. Reuters reported that the memo also encourages particular attention for protecting LGBTQ asylum seekers.
Domestically, the Biden administration is holding firm to its commitment to passing the Equality Act within the first 100 days of his presidency.
However, while applauding gains made for transgender and queer folks, activists for intersex rights are calling on the Biden administration to do more. Kimberly Zieselman and Alesdair H. Ittelson of “interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth” wrote in The Advocate:
“As the leadership of the nation’s largest organization dedicated to intersex advocacy, we are disappointed that the Biden-Harris administration’s first overture to the LGBTQI+ community has fallen short of meaningful inclusion for this oft-overlooked population. . .
“As protective measures supporting the rights of intersex people pass across the world, from India to Iceland, we wait to see what the United States government will do to protect intersex youth from surgeries they never asked for and to allow intersex adults to proudly serve their country [in the military]. Our request comes not to downplay the crucial forward movement our new president has achieved with less than a week in office. Rather, we see an opportunity to engage with the momentum we know will change the lives of millions of Americans who are just as deserving of equal protection under the law.”
As of now, Joe Biden is the most pro-LGBTQ president in U.S. history. He is also devoutly Catholic, a point which has many U.S. bishops concerned and even vocally critical. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was quick to attack the president’s executive order implementing Bostock, calling it “misguided.”
More notable was the statement put out on Inauguration Day by USCCB president Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, which was viewed by many as an attack on Biden. That statement, which highlighted LGBTQ equality and abortion as its key concerns, revealed sharp divides among the U.S. episcopate and between the U.S. bishops and Rome.
A USCCB working group was established last fall, which includes the chairs of major committees and is led by Detroit’s Archbishop Allen Vigneron, the Conference’s vice president, who has a strong anti-LGBTQ record. The National Catholic Reporter’s Christopher White said the working group could be “signaling what could become a showdown” between church leaders and the Biden administration. It may even suggest a desire to deny communion to the president, as one of the working group’s tasks concerns “Eucharistic coherence.”
All indications point to the USCCB remaining myopically focused on their opposition to Biden’s efforts that expand equality for LGBTQ people and women seeking reproductive healthcare. And the bishops may find common cause with anti-LGBTQ opponents elsewhere. NBC News reported that state and local officials who, in response to Biden’s progress, are seeking to undercut LGBTQ rights in their communities.
President Biden is, like any president, imperfect. I have any number of critiques of some of his policies and personnel appointments. But it is undeniable that in just a month, he has advanced LGBTQ rights far beyond where they have been in the U.S. And, if he can pass the Equality Act, it would be a legacy victory decades in the making. If the bishops define their relationship to Biden antagonistically, it will further erode their credibility and do even more pastoral harm. Thankfully, it is not too late for them to join President Biden in charting a new course for equality.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 15, 2021