In a slew of executive orders issued just hours after taking office, U.S. President Joe Biden reversed many of the Trump administration’s attacks on LGBTQ rights, as well as many other hateful and oppressive policies that drove people into the streets in protest.
The order’s sweeping changes are by far the largest executive action on behalf of LGBTQ rights. It orders full implementation of the Supreme Court’s June 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Georgia, which found that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment. That was the interpretation adopted by the Obama administration in 2014 before Trump reversed the order and his administration later ignored the court’s ruling.
Biden also ordered a return to several other Obama-era interpretations of civil rights laws as protecting LGBTQ people, including from discrimination in education, housing, and immigration. He also restored the Obama-era rule in the Affordable Care Act that protected LGBTQ people from discrimination in healthcare. On Jan. 25, Biden issued another executive order to undo the ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. Armed Forces that Trump put in place in 2017.
A real impact
By any measure, these are all substantive actions that will positively affect the lives of more than 11 million LGBTQ people in the United States during a period of economic, social and health catastrophe. The joy and relief this news brings to so many in recent days stands in stark contrast to the despair experienced over the last four years as one hard-won right after another was snatched away by a morning Tweet or a back-room policy change.
LGBTQ people can no longer be legally refused a loan for being LGBTQ, nor can they be refused the right to rent a home or apartment, apply to a school, play on a sports team or be given or keep a job, because of their sexuality or their gender. Under capitalism, access to these necessities is not treated as a right, and discrimination and prejudice against LGBTQ people has been legally protected under the guise of religious belief and traditional practice.
While some on the left have insisted that trans people being banned from military service is a good thing because it deprives the U.S. empire of potential soldiers, progressive and revolutionary people must oppose such bans on the grounds that the government should never have the power to discriminate against trans people or any oppressed community.
Time to double down
Biden’s executive orders on LGBTQ issues are returns to policies dating to the Obama era, which were implemented by executive order. Trump, in turn, reversed those changes, also by executive order. In no case was a legislative process involved. Instead, existing civil rights legislation protecting against discrimination based on sex was reinterpreted as also applying to LGBTQ people.
In addition, while Biden’s orders are federal, there are equally powerful assaults on LGBTQ rights at the state level. As Liberation News has reported, state legislatures have become laboratories for reactionary laws restricting abortion rights and LGBTQ rights, and formal legal equality at the federal level is proven not to preclude local rollbacks.
Those protections could again be rescinded by a future executive order under a new administration without a positive move like the Equality Act, which the Democrat-controlled House passed in 2019, but the Republican-controlled Senate declined to take up.
However, the Democrats’ record on this issue remains weak. In 2007, they split the Employment Non-Discrimination Act into two bills — one for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people and another for transgender people — over fears that the LGB bill wouldn’t pass if it included trans people, even though Democrats controlled both House and Senate. In the end, both bills failed and those protections for all LGBTQ people are now included in the larger Equality Act. Now that Democrats control both houses of Congress, there is no excuse for them not to pass the Equality Act and other civil rights protections that would be much harder to later remove.
Now is the time to double down on fighting for human rights and equality. The vast majority of LGBTQ people also need economic relief in the face of surging unemployment, food insecurity, a looming tsunami of evictions, and a healthcare access crisis during a pandemic. More than ever, progressive and revolutionary people should unite against all forms of oppression and discrimination and build a strong, working-class movement to meet the needs of the many.
Feature photo: Protest Trans Military Ban, White House, Washington D.C., July 26, 2017. Tim Eytan (CC BY-SA 2.0)