Former Vice President Joe Biden released a comprehensive plan on LGBTQ equality late last week, with plans to roll back anti-LGBTQ efforts brandished by the Trump administration, as well as advance legislation the queer community has long demanded from the federal government.
Published on Biden’s campaign website Thursday evening, the plan spells out more than 50 policies targeted specifically to the LGBTQ community. These include calls to repeal President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people serving openly in the military, expand nonbinary gender markers on federal passports, ban conversion therapy on LGBTQ youth, and repeal discriminatory laws criminalizing HIV exposure currently on the books in 26 U.S. states.
“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,” reads the recently updated LGBTQ page on his Biden for President site.
Much of Biden’s plan involves returning to protections for LGBTQ individuals established under Barack Obama’s presidency. His plan includes reinstating a 2014 executive order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, which was overturned shortly after Trump took office in 2017. As president, Biden would reaffirm the Obama administration’s contention that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace bias on the basis of characteristics like race and sex, also extends to LGBTQ individuals. Trump’s Department of Justice has repeatedly held that queer and trans people are not protected by federal employment laws.
However, Biden’s agenda would work to expand protections of LGBTQ individuals by signing the Equality Act within the first 100 days of his presidency. The legislation, which passed the House for the first time in 2019, would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in all areas of public life—including housing, education, credit, and public accomodations like restrooms. Currently, 29 states lack fully inclusive nondiscrimination laws at the statewide level.
Other items on Biden’s agenda for LGBTQ equality include repealing Trump-era policies allowing people of faith to refuse medical care if providing those resources conflicts with their religious beliefs and overturning the military’s “deploy or get out policy,” which has effectively forced people living with HIV out of the armed forces. The plan also includes policies to expand suicide prevention services for LGBTQ people, reinvest in federal anti-bullying efforts, make it easier for LGBTQ refugees to apply for asylum, and direct federal resources to combat the epidemic of violence against trans women of color.
While the plan is too multifaceted to cover in its totality—and includes pledges to expand federal hate crimes laws and ensure trans students are able to use restrooms in accordance with their gender identity at school—there are some occasional blind spots. Whereas recent 2020 dropout Elizabeth Warren’s LGBTQ agenda called to end the one-year deferral period for gay and bisexual blood donors and allow them to donate blood without restriction, Biden stops short of that promise. His plan says he would “work with the Food and Drug Administration to ensure regulations are based on science, not fiction or stigma” by investing in “new research to study risk behavior.”
The Biden agenda also calls to reissue the Transgender Offender Manual, a 2016 document issued by the Bureau of Prisons that required that “gender identity be considered when making housing assignments” for trans inmates. That policy was discontinued by the Trump administration, which Biden’s website notes is putting “transgender inmates in serious danger of assault and rape” in doing so. But there’s an important distinction in the language here: Mandating that lockup facilities “consider” an inmate’s gender identity is different than actually requiring prisons to house trans prisoners in accordance with the gender by which they identify, which was a facet of the Warren plan.
Overall, the Biden plan is a major step forward for a candidate who was slow to offer LGBTQ policy in 2020—even despite his courageous stances on equality in the past. Biden came out in favor of same-sex marriage in May 2012 and is widely seen as pushing Obama to publicly “evolve” on the issue but was also one of the last major candidates in the Democratic primaries to release an LGBTQ plan. Warren released her full agenda in October. Meanwhile, LGBTQ plans from 2020 also-rans Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Beto O’Rourke mostly offered similar, if less sweeping proposals, to Biden’s.
Biden has also made some notable gaffes while discussing LGBTQ rights during the primary campaign. He went off on a bizarre tangent about “around-the-clock sex” at gay bathhouses in San Francisco during an LGBTQ Town Hall hosted by CNN and the Human Rights Campaign in October. The candidate was also criticized for calling a female moderator “sweetheart” while being pressed about his votes in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act and against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during a separate LGBTQ forum weeks earlier.
Even despite these missteps, Biden’s LGBTQ plan is the most comprehensive among the Democrats still in the race. Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign website spells out several pledges to queer and trans people should he be elected president, including the passage of the Equality Act and ensuring LGBTQ people have access to affirming health care through Medicare for All, but the plan is not as thorough as Biden’s. Sanders did, however, elaborate on some of his policies in a recent questionnaire issued by the HRC. These include promises to lower the cost of HIV-prevention medications like Truvada and instituting anti-bias training to ensure that local law enforcement agencies interact with members of the LGBTQ community appropriately, among many others.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has improbably remained in the race despite winning just two delegates on Super Tuesday, has not released any kind of plan for LGBTQ equality. Her 2020 website discusses past support for bills on LGBTQ nondiscrimination and federal data collection on LGBTQ individuals but does not elaborate on what kinds of policies she would pursue if elected. Meanwhile, Gabbard was the only candidate not to participate in HRC’s equality survey but said her failure to do so was because the group never sent a questionnaire to her. HRC representatives vociferously denied that claim.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.