This Q and A with former Vice President and now Democratic Candidate for President Joe Biden starts out with a meeting in 2012 when a group of us met in the Vice President’s office in the White House to find a way to fund an LGBTQ senior affordable living facility. That building is the John C. Anderson LGBT-Friendly Apartments, a hallmark of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community. We start there.
Many in the LGBTQ community don’t know of your work for LGBTQ issues as Vice President, particularly the guidance you gave to create affordable housing for LGBT Seniors. Your personal involvement in the funding of the John C. Anderson LGBT-friendly affordable senior living building in Philadelphia helped make it a White House Challenge Project and got HUD to use that model to create similar projects around the country. LGBT seniors are often ignored even by the LGBTQ community. Why was that issue of LGBT seniors important to you, and how will you expand it under your administration?
It’s about dignity, plain and simple. Housing should be a right, not a privilege. There are approximately 3 million LGBTQ+ individuals in the United States older than age 50, and this number is expected to more than double by 2030. LGBTQ+ seniors face far too many instances of discrimination in their lives, from employment to health care to housing. This results in unstable living arrangements and makes them vulnerable. To make matters worse, Donald Trump previously rolled back data collection on LGBTQ+ seniors, which are essential to ensuring older LGBTQ+ people have access to the programs and services they need.
During my time as Vice President, the Obama-Biden Administration helped provide support and resources for older LGBTQ+ individuals through the Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders (SAGE) resource program. And we supported the development of the John C. Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia to serve an immediate need for high-quality senior living that is fitting of the iconic LGBTQ+ aging activists that now make their home there. I see this as a national model and would support the creation of similar projects as president.
I will also champion passage of the Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act, which will end discriminatory passages and ensure LGBTQ+ seniors have equal access to services outlined by the Older Americans Act. And I will protect and strengthen Medicare, preserve and strengthen Social Security, and provide help for older LGBTQ+ workers who want to keep working.
While you have stated that you support an inclusive Equality Act and said it’s a priority, if the Democratic Party is successful in winning the Senate and retains control of the House, will you pledge that your administration will pass and sign the Equality Act in your first year as President?
Donald Trump and Mike Pence have given hate against LGBTQ+ individuals safe harbor and rolled back critical protections for the LGBTQ+ community. By blocking the ability of transgender individuals to openly serve their country, denying LGBTQ+ people access to critical health care, proposing policies allowing federally funded homeless shelters to turn away transgender people and federally funded adoption agencies to reject same-sex couples, and failing to address the epidemic of violence against transgender people — particularly transgender women of color — the Trump-Pence Administration has led a systematic effort to undo the progress President Obama and I made.
Hate and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people started long before Trump and Pence took office. Defeating them will not solve the problem, but it is an essential first step in order to resume our march toward equality.
To help achieve our vision of equality, I will make enactment of the Equality Act a top legislative priority during my first 100 days — a priority that Donald Trump opposes. This is essential to ensuring that no future president can ever again roll back civil rights and protections for LGBTQ+ individuals, including when it comes to housing.
I will also direct my Cabinet to ensure immediate and full enforcement of the Equality Act across all federal departments and agencies.
The Equality Act is essential to reducing economic barriers and ensuring consistent protection from discrimination for LGBTQ+ individuals. Too many states do not have laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination. It’s wrong to deny people access to services or housing because of who they are or who they love.
What can you do as President about nations that still put LGBT people in jail, publicly whip them, execute them, or allow honor killings because of sexual orientation or gender identity?
It is our responsibility to advance human rights and development in our country and beyond our borders. As Vice President, I traveled the world on behalf of the Obama-Biden Administration and repeatedly spoke out to recognize LGBTQ+ rights as human rights, and to advance opportunities for LGBTQ+ individuals. As President, I’ll restore America’s global leadership on LGBTQ+ issues and actively combat violence and discrimination that is far too rampant. I will build on the Obama-Biden successes and repair the damage wrought by the Trump-Pence Administration’s treatment of LGBTQ+ Americans, which signals a tolerance for abuses by other countries, and its utter failure to defend American diplomats who speak out for LGBTQ+ rights abroad.
I will lead a coalition of like-minded governments and international organizations to advance protections for LGBTQ+ people. This includes the decriminalization of identities and relationships and responding swiftly to threats against LGBTQ+ rights. If governments restrict the rights of LBGTQ+ individuals, or allow violence or discrimination, my Administration, working with partners, will use America’s full range of diplomatic tools to influence that government’s behavior, including private diplomacy, public statements, and multilateral initiatives at United Nations agencies. We will also use direct pressure tactics as appropriate, including sanctions, to respond to violations of human rights, including LGBTQ+ rights. I’ll stand up to bullies and once more put human rights at the center of America’s engagement with the world.
Over 30 trans people, most of them people of color, have been killed in the U.S. this year. What can a Biden Administration Justice Department and HHS do to address the wave of violence and murder of trans people?
Violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people, particularly Black and Brown transgender women, is an epidemic that needs national leadership. So far this year, the Human Rights Campaign has tracked 33 transgender or gender non-conforming people who have been violently killed. This is the highest number on record with more than two months left in the year, and the vast majority are Black and Brown transgender women. It’s intolerable and has happened right here, in Philadelphia. Mia Green and Rem’mie Fells suffered an unimaginable fate.
These deaths don’t exist within a vacuum. Dehumanizing government actions and rhetoric as well as a failure to address risk factors like domestic and intimate partner violence, underemployment and unemployment and poverty, housing insecurity and health disparities, put this community at risk. From banning transgender patriots from serving their country, to attempting to limit transgender people’s access to health care in the midst of a pandemic, to literally erasing the word transgender from some government websites, Trump and Pence have fueled the flames of transphobia in our nation while refusing to acknowledge the epidemic of violence.
Solving this epidemic of violence doesn’t just require a President who actually recognizes it as fact, but one who believes in the humanity and dignity of transgender people.
During my first 100 days in office I will direct federal resources to help prevent violence against transgender women and transgender women of color. Recognizing that employment and housing discrimination lead to increased risk of homelessness and violence, I will also work to pass the Equality Act to reduce economic barriers and social stigma, and the LGBTQ Essential Data Act, which will help collect critical data about anti-transgender violence and the factors that drive it. I will also direct my Administration to update the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports Supplementary Homicide Reports (UCR-SHR) to include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression, which will improve our ability to fully diagnose and measure the extent of violent crimes against LGBTQ+ victims.
Over the years, I have championed more than a dozen bills around hate crime prevention efforts, including legislation in 1989 requiring the government to begin collecting data around hate crimes based on sexual orientation, and landmark legislation in 1994 allowing harsher penalties for crimes based on sexual orientation. In 2009, President Obama and I championed and signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Act Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, which expanded the nation’s hate crimes law to include crimes based on one’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. But today there is still so much more work to do. I will strengthen enforcement of the Matthew Shepard Act by increasing funding for anti-bias and hate crimes investigation training. I will work with Congress to pass both the Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer No Hate Act, which would require national hate crime reporting and data collection, as well as victim assistance and support, and the End Racial and Religious Profiling Act, which as HRC describes “would prohibit law enforcement from targeting a person based on actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.” In addition, I will ensure that my Administration’s Department of Justice makes hate crimes a prosecutorial priority.
Additionally, transgender and non-binary people without identification documents that accurately reflect their gender identity are often exposed to harassment and violence and denied employment, housing, critical public benefits, and even the right to vote. The Obama-Biden State Department led the way by updating its gender change policies for passports. As president, I will build on this action to ensure all transgender individuals have access to identification documents that accurately reflect their gender identity, a key step to reducing anti-transgender discrimination, harassment, and violence. I believe every transgender or non-binary person should have the option of selecting “X” as their gender marker on government identifications, passports, and other documentation. I will support state and federal efforts to allow for this accurate representation.
I will also work to increase the safety of transgender individuals who are incarcerated. The Obama-Biden Administration issued guidance on implementing the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards, requiring gender identity be considered when making housing assignments. The Trump-Pence Administration’s Federal Bureau of Prisons rolled back this guidance, requiring biological sex to be used in housing determinations, putting transgender inmates in serious danger of assault and rape. As president, I will reinstate the Obama-Biden guidance and direct my Justice Department to ensure that federal and state correctional facilities comply with the PREA standards. In addition, I ensure all transgender inmates have access to appropriate doctors and medical care — including OBGYNs and hormone therapy. And, I will require the Bureau of Prisons to revise the Transgender Offender Manual to once again include protections for transgender individuals who are incarcerated.
I will also support reforms that allow transgender Americans incarcerated in federal prisons to petition to change their legal names and gender identity on official documents, and will support a prohibition on gay and transgender “panic” defense and increase LGBTQ+ cultural competency trainings and bias trainings for law enforcement offices.
I believe that Trans Lives Matter and, as president, I will fight on behalf of every vulnerable person in this country.
Will you commit to appointing out LGBTQ people to high-level positions in your administration including the cabinet?
The Obama-Biden Administration was the most demographically diverse in history and had a number of successful and effective liaisons to the LGBTQ+ community. I will ensure that liaisons in a Biden-Harris Administration represent their community, are able to provide good counsel to administration officials on LGBTQ+-related matters, and create new partnerships across the country.
The Biden-Harris Administration will look like our country — all working together to serve the American people. Our federal agencies will be champions of equality and I’ll nominate and appoint federal officials and judges that represent the diversity of America, including LGBTQ+ individuals.
The idea of “religious freedom” as a reason to allow discrimination has stoked divisiveness in this country. What can we do as a country to ensure that discrimination against LGBTQ people, no matter how it’s justified, does not happen?
Trump has deliberately tried to gut protections for the LGBTQ+ community by creating broad religious exemptions to existing nondiscrimination laws and policies that allow businesses, medical providers, and adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. We need to root out discrimination in our laws, institutions, and public spaces. Religion should not be used as a license to discriminate, and as president, I will oppose legislation to deny LGBTQ+ equal treatment in public places. I will immediately reverse discriminatory practices that Trump put in place and work to advance the rights of LGBTQ+ people widely.
To read my whole plan, please go to https://joebiden.com/lgbtq-policy/.
This interview is an exclusive feature and is reprinted with permission by Philadelphia Gay News.