President Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress last night, and he used the occasion to reaffirm his support for transgender Americans and specifically praise trans youth for their courage. Left unsaid in the speech, though, was how his administration intends to fight Republican efforts in state legislatures to pass bills targeting trans youth as a means to cater to their conservative base following losses in the 2020 general elections.
“To all transgender Americans watching at home, especially young people who are so brave, I want you to know your President has your back,” President Biden told the Congress.
Biden had moments before asked Congress to pass the Equality Act, the historic legislation that would extend anti-discrimination protections to all Americans. During the campaign, he had promised to make the bill law within his first 100 days in office. The President later pulled back from that commitment, citing the need to concentrate his administration’s focus on the vaccine rollout first.
One of President Biden’s first acts in office was to overturn Trump’s ban on transgender military service members via executive order.
“Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service," the administration said in a release at the time, adding that “an inclusive military strengthens our national security.”
While most were heartened by the President’s words in the State of the Union address, others pointed out the need for action as well to counter Republican efforts to shore up their base at the state level with a slew of transphobic and anti-science bills. Their efforts are seen by many as an attempt to create a wedge issue ahead of the midterm elections next year. Mississippi and Florida are but a few of the states considering or passing transphobic legislation so far this year.
Chase Strangio of the ACLU thanked Biden for his words, but also noted “things are desperate” and that action was needed.
Young actor and trans activist Kai Shappley also thanked Biden, but asked if his words would prevent Shappley’s mother from going to jail under a new transphobic law proposed in her home state of Texas.
Shappley famously schooled legislators earlier this month in a speech before the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs as they considered two transphobic pieces of legislation that would criminalize many trans-affirming medical treatment for trans youth and provides criminal penalties to anyone, parents and medical providers included, who violate the law.
“Bullying is bad,” she said. “Please stop.”
While expressing concern about the future, others chose to focus on the fight ahead.
“Especially in this moment, when LGBTQ rights are under attack in several states across the country, it was important to see President Biden make it clear tonight that his priority would be continuing our shared fight to ensure that every American has access to the fullness of opportunity our country affords,” Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement following Biden’s speech. “To that point, we were especially heartened to hear the president specifically uplift his support for transgender people and particularly affirm transgender kids.”