One of the first actions by President Donald Trump when he took office was to ban transgender people from serving in the military. Now that President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office on Jan. 20, local LGBTQ advocacy groups are cautiously optimistic about the Democrat’s proposed policies and protections for the community.
Biden was among early backers of same-sex marriage, and during his vice presidency, he and President Barack Obama’s administration overturned “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and marriage equality became legal at the federal level.
After four years of policy reversals and weakened protections for LGBTQ people in areas like housing and health care, Pittsburgh Equality Center Acting Chair Patrick Zabasnik said there are mixed reactions from the community.
“There’s a lot of happiness, obviously, a celebration, but I think there are some reservations,” Zabasnik said.
Those reservations include how difficult and time consuming it will be to overturn a number of the Trump administration’s policies. The top priority among most organizations is federal non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ, specifically individuals’ sexual orientation and gender identities. Pennsylvania does not have such protections, but the passage of something like the Equality Act would supersede state law.
“Part of that Equality Act entails looking at mental health and health care resources and rural areas and housing for seniors,” Zabasnik said. “But also even I think for people who are who identify as transgender or non-binary having identification documents that are matching how they present and who they are specifically.”
The bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last year, but stalled in the Senate.
Sarah Rosso, executive director of the Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation, said due to Trump’s three conservative Supreme Court appointees, even a pro-LGBTQ Biden administration could face hurdles.
“Biden’s reach is going to be somewhat limited in the executive branch,” Rosso said. “We hope that we don’t see any rollback of marriage protections or other equity pieces that we’ve won.”
As the incoming Biden administration fills Cabinet seats and other high-level positions, Rosso said it’s important to include LGBTQ people, especially with Black and brown leaders.
“Within the first few weeks of the [Trump] administration, we saw the complete erasure of LGBT data from [government] websites,” Rosso said. “Just making sure that the community is represented within the administration, I think that’s a source of hopefulness.”
After a summer of protests against police brutality of Black and brown people, other groups are waiting to see how the new administration handles social justice issues. While campaigning, Biden promised to work to eliminate racial disparities and improve the relationship between minority communities and law enforcement. Dena Stanley with TransYOUniting said she hopes Biden also works to change attitudes about LGBTQ people, specifically those who are transgender.
“We still have a long road ahead of us because Trump did a lot of damage,” Stanley said. “But [Black voters] really came out in numbers … So if [Biden’s] going to say something, do it. Mean what you say and say what you mean.”