Catholic Leaders Seek “Stronger Moral Leadership” from President Biden on LGBTQ+ Rights

How well has President Joe Biden, who often touts his Catholic faith, navigated LGBTQ+ issues? A new article in The Hill highlights how Biden both has been a “champion” and “behind the times” when it comes to advocating for LGBTQ+ people.

As one of just two Catholic presidents in U.S. history, Biden’s treatment of issues like transgender equality and abortion rights is watched closely. Although Biden appears “uncomfortable at times with matters that can contradict his faith,” he has taken steps to further include LGBTQ+ people into society. For example, the president has advocated to expand supports for queer youth, especially those who are navigating homelessness, foster care, or face mental health challenges. In addition, Biden appointed the first openly-transgender White House official: Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services Assistant.

In his State of the Union address this past February, Biden hoped to pass the Equality Act, which, in his words, would ensure that “transgender young people can live with safety and dignity.”

Despite such rhetoric, LGBTQ+ advocates have criticized Biden because they believe he could be doing more. In April, the Biden administration proposed revising Title IX policies to limit transgender participation in school sports. The proposed rule would allow trans athletes to be banned from teams consistent with their gender identity if it is determined that their participation increases the risk of sports injuries or jeopardizes fairness.

Biden was also criticized for quietly banning a military drag show the day before Pride Month. Two government officials stopped the show by enforcing a Department of Defense ban that has not always been applied. Some believe that the Biden administration canceled the show due to pressure from Republicans.

According to theologian Massimo Faggioli, Biden’s ambiguous stance on LGBTQ+ issues is very similar to that of the Vatican’s leadership. Last year, Pope Francis stated that laws that criminalize homosexuality are “unjust.” However, the pope has also “maintained disapproval of transgender ideology, saying in March that it is dangerous to blur differences between men and women.” Faggioli observed:

“There is no clear stance doctrinally at the highest level on all of these things and so the situation in which the Biden administration finds itself on the transgender issue is not totally different from the situation in which the Vatican and the Bishops find themselves.”

“What’s happening right now both at the national level in this country and at the global level, in the Vatican, is a very confused moment of transition. Because on abortion, there is a settled doctrine and there is a variety of practical pastoral positions. On the gender issue, there is no settled doctrine.”

Given the persistent rise in anti-trans laws, such as bans on gender-affirming medical care, and other laws to limit sex education, LGBTQ+ advocates are “expecting Biden to step up.” Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, stated:

“I would love to see some stronger, moral leadership here. I think [Biden] wants to do the right thing, I truly believe that, and I think he would want to be called a champion for the trans community. Things are moving at a level of intensity with the level of vitriol that many political leaders are unprepared for.”

Jamie Manson, a lesbian Catholic activist who is now the president of Catholics for Choice said the right wing’s attacks on reproductive and transgender rights may land more favorably for someone of Biden’s age. Manson explained that the president is “probably more teachable on trans rights than he is on abortion” given his past support for gay people, but that was not a given:

“‘Because the right wing has been so effective in the fearmongering, in the scapegoating, in the disinformation that they have put about abortion and trans people, they have targeted it in such a way that this generation of Catholics in particular is quite vulnerable.'”

Duddy-Burke offered a concrete proposal for the president:

“I would love to see President Biden really make one of his folksy speeches in which he just talks about, these are people who are just trying to live their lives and we need to learn to trust that they’re doing the best they can, their families are doing the best they can, and support them.”

Sarah Cassidy (she/her), New Ways Ministry, July 28, 2023

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