Off to a Great Start, And Lots More to Do!
Reflections on Week One of the Biden-Harris Administration
President Biden has certainly been busy, hasn’t he?
As of January 29, 2021, Biden has issued 22 executive orders and seven other types of executive actions, such as presidential memoranda. (By the time you read this, those numbers will surely have increased.) Of these dozens of policy announcements, a few of them, viewed together, tell an interesting story.
Those of us in the LGBTQ community were thrilled, of course, that an Executive Order (EO) addressing our rights came out on Day One. That EO told federal agencies to make sure all of their rules and regulations are consistent with last year’s Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a quick refresher, that landmark ruling said that federal sex discrimination laws protect LGBTQ people. Justice Gorsuch wrote the opinion, which was also joined by Chief Justice Roberts and four other justices. It was a BIG deal.
President Biden’s EO means that every federal agency that enforces a federal sex discrimination law must now protect LGBTQ people. Some of the most important examples are federal laws prohibiting sex discrimination in education, housing, and healthcare. This is tremendous progress.
We got another boost on Day Four, when President Biden ended former President Trump’s ban on transgender military service. Never before have we seen such proactive moves for LGBTQ people from a president so soon after taking office. These policy changes will have extremely positive effects on LGBTQ people in so many areas of our lives, whether we are students, health care consumers, service members, elders seeking equal access to retirement community housing, or individuals or families using homeless shelters or other government supports.
On Day Eight, the President’s focus turned to health care. In addition to improving access to health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, he reversed several Trump policies that severely restricted reproductive health care. First, he got rid of the Global Gag Rule, which barred any international organization getting financial support from the United States from providing abortion care or advocating for abortion rights. Under Trump’s policy, the organization would lose all of its federal funding even if the funds used for abortion services or advocacy came from elsewhere, not from the U.S. government. In other words, American funding came with huge strings attached. Those are now gone.
Getting rid of the Global Gag Rule was fairly easy – the Presidential Memorandum was all it took. Unfortunately a similar policy that operates here in the U.S. will take a little longer to unwind. The Trump administration enacted regulations that put the same heavy-handed restrictions on U.S.-based health care providers that get federal funding through Title X, the main federal family planning program. Under these restrictions, if a health care provider offers abortion care or even talks about it with their patients, they lose all of their Title X funding. The Trump administration imposed this harsh rule despite knowing it would exclude Planned Parenthood, which had served almost half the people seeking services under Title X. While eliminating the country’s largest and most experienced family planning provider from the federal family planning program seems non-sensical from a public health standpoint, let’s be honest – for the Trump administration, that was a feature, not a bug.
Unfortunately, that policy was enacted through formal regulatory procedures, so it has to be undone the same way. President Biden has instructed the Department of Health and Human Services, which runs Title X, to review this and other Trump rules and come up with a plan to undo them. Given the high stakes, the sooner the better!
So what do these different Biden administration orders have in common? Probably more than you think. While they talk about different issues and were issued at different times, they all promote common themes: bodily autonomy, dignity, sexual health, and self-actualization. They might be described as being “for” only one community – these for LGBTQ people, those for women, low-income communities, or people of color. But in reality, those are not separate constituencies at all.
These policy changes mean that queer folks will be able to live as their authentic selves without having to accept discrimination when seeking health care, housing, or a job, including military service. Or when seeking abortion care, because many LGBTQ people need that too. Restrictions on abortion harm all those who may need that care – cisgender women, trans and non-binary people, and others – so the Biden-Harris administration’s early moves to lift those draconian funding restrictions are a great start.
But there is more to be done, and while we are beyond relieved to have a new administration that sees us and moved quickly to address and validate our needs, it’s also incumbent upon us to ensure that they don’t stop here. The damage of the last four years can’t be undone in a week, and we will at times have to be patient as the new administration grapples with the myriad crises it inherited. But we stand ready to work with them to make even more progress on reproductive health, rights and justice, and LGBTQ equality to realize the inclusive vision of this nation that the new President and Vice President have set forth. Onward!
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