Former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination, says he plans to reinstate Obama-era protections for LGBTQ+ people should he be elected in November.
“Hate and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people started long before [President Donald] Trump and [Vice President Mike] Pence took office,” his equality plan, released Thursday (March 6) reads. “Defeating them will not solve the problem, but it is an essential first step in order to resume our march toward equality.”
Trump’s presidency — and the rhetoric spewed by Vice President Mike Pence — has had a universally and undeniably negative effect on LGBTQ+ rights. Biden’s new plan calls for undoing many of the anti-LGBTQ+ policies Trump put in place: As commander in chief, the former senator would allow transgender people to serve openly in the military, and would also remove policies that discriminate against people with HIV. His plan states that he end the misuse of religious exemptions to enable anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and ensure that health care coverage, adoption agencies, and homeless shelters can’t deny service to someone on the basis of gender or sexuality.
“Joe Biden believes that every human being should be treated with respect and dignity and be able to live without fear no matter who they are or who they love,” the plan reads. “During the Obama-Biden Administration, the United States made historic strides toward LGBTQ+ equality — from the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to Biden’s historic declaration in support of marriage equality on Meet the Press in 2012 to the unprecedented advancement of protections for LGBTQ+ Americans at the federal level.”
Biden voted in favor of a broad defense bill in the 1990s that included “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a policy from Bill Clinton’s presidency that allows LGBTQ+ people to serve in the military as long as they weren’t open about their sexual identity, as BuzzFeed News reports. At the time, the bill was proposed as a compromise alternative to the outright ban on service by LGBTQ+ people, according to Reuters. As vice president during Obama’s presidency, he supported the 2010 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
He pledged to protect of LGBTQ+ people from violence and “work to end the epidemic of violence against the trans community, particularly trans women of color.” 2019 saw the murders of at least 26 trans or gender non-conforming people in the U.S., the majority of whom were Black women and other women of color, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
In his plan, Biden promised to enact the Equality Act during his first 100 days in office and to reaffirm that the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He also notes in the plan that, in 2012, he “became the highest-ranking elected U.S. official to support marriage equality.” In comparison, Democratic primary competitor Sen. Bernie Sanders supported same-sex civil unions in Vermont when he was a member of Congress as early as 2000.
But Biden’s track record on LGBTQ+ rights wasn’t without an evolution: In 1996, he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, a Clinton-era bill that was supported by many Democrats at the time and defined marriage as between a man and a woman. For his part, as The Advocate notes, Biden has “since become a reliable LGBTQ+ ally.”
Biden’s plan was released as he enters a largely three-person race to the White House — first between Biden and Sanders in the Democratic primary election, and then between the winner and Trump in the 2020 general election come November. Nearly 40 percent of LGBTQ+ people who voted on Super Tuesday backed Sanders, with then-candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren in second, according to an NBC News Exit Poll; Biden received just 19 percent of the LGBTQ+ vote.
Sanders’s plan, while certainly shorter than Biden’s 17 pages, also includes a promise to pass the Equality Act; protect against LGBTQ+ discrimination in health care, work, housing, banks, and school; train police departments to interact more fairly with trans people; and repeal the ban on trans people from serving in the military. He also plans to add “federal recognition of non-binary identities, specifically the inclusion of a third-gender category on government-issued documents,” and investigate murders of trans people as federal hate crimes.
While LGBTQ+ voters tend to be largely supporting Sanders, NBC News notes that the voting bloc will likely support whoever the Democratic nominee is in November, as LGBTQ+ voters tend to be liberal.
“[They] will skew young, will skew more progressive and also likely reflect a greater level of racial and ethnic diversity,” Andrew Flores, a political science professor at American University, told NBC News.