Joe Biden invoked the importance of transgender rights and called conversion therapy “sick” during a virtual fundraising event for his presidential campaign Wednesday night.
The presumptive Democratic nominee also gave a shout-out to the late Aimee Stephens, the trans plaintiff in an employment discrimination case pending before the Supreme Court. The fundraiser was hosted on Zoom by another LGBTQ+ ally, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and was attended by 115 people, the Biden campaign reports. Biden spoke from his home in Delaware.
One attendee, Vlada Knowlton, asked Biden how he would protect trans people from “unjust attacks” and discrimination, according to a press pool report by John Verhovek of ABC News. She is the mother of three children, one of them transgender.
Biden said he would work to get Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other venues on a nationwide basis. He also said he would rescind Donald Trump’s ban on military service by transgender people, and seek to end conversion therapy, which attempts to turn LGBTQ+ people straight and/or cisgender. He called the practice “sick.”
Knowlton noted the recent death of Stephens, who sued after her employer fired her for being trans. The Supreme Court heard her case in October and is expected to issue a ruling soon on whether existing civil rights law against sex discrimination covers discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In response, Biden said he was due to talk to Stephens Tuesday, and an aide told him she had just died.
“I was supposed to call her,” he said. “I had her picture and her bio on my desk; I was supposed to call her. I’m looking over at Annie, I guess it was yesterday at 2 o’clock, and Annie came in ... with tears in her eyes and said they passed away, passed away.” Annie Tomasini is his traveling chief of staff.
Biden further endorsed the concept of gender-neutral markers for voter registration. “You ought to be able to just put X on sex and be able – you don't have to explain a damn thing,” he said. “If you’re a registered person in that place, you should be able to vote.”
He addressed several other topics, according to the pool report, including his search for a running mate. “The first and most important attribute is, if something happens to me, the moment after it does, that that person is capable of taking over as president of the United States of America,” Biden said.
When he was Barack Obama’s vice president, he said, he learned that a veep should be someone who is “simpatico” and “agrees strategically” with the president and is ready to move into the top job on “a moment’s notice.”
Biden has pledged to pick a woman for his running mate, and he has appointed a group to vet the potential choices. Those doing the review include Delaware Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, and Cynthia Hogan, who worked with him to craft the Violence Against Women Act when he was a senator.
“They’re now in the process of thoroughly examining a group of women, all of whom are capable in my view of being president,” Biden said. “And there’s about a dozen of them. We’re keeping the names quiet because if anyone isn’t chosen, I don’t want anybody to think it’s because there was something that was a — some liability that existed.”
Biden also took the opportunity to offer support to U.S. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, who is running for reelection and is considered vulnerable in the conservative state. Jones, a Democrat, defeated virulently anti-LGBTQ+ Republican Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, in a special election in 2017 and now must run for a full term.
Moore sought the Republican nomination for Senate this year but finished far out of the running in the primary. Two GOPers advanced to a runoff, which will be held in July: Jeff Sessions, who held the Senate seat until he became Donald Trump’s first attorney general (Trump ousted him for insufficient loyalty) and Tommy Tuberville, best known to Alabamians as the former head football coach at Auburn University. Sessions is notorious for his anti-LGBTQ+ stances; Tuberville, a self-described “Christian conservative,” has less on the record, but he has made some comments that indicate homophobia and transphobia.
In December, for instance, Tuberville objected to the presence of drag queens in a Christmas parade in the town of Opelika, near Auburn. “Hard to believe that right in my own backyard the city of Opelika allows drag queens in the city Christmas Parade which was held this weekend,” he wrote on Facebook. “What is next?”
Biden suggested that those attending his event donate to Jones’s campaign. “It’s a stupid thing for me to say, if you’re gonna give me a little extra money, don’t. Send it to Doug Jones,” he said. “I really mean it. ... He’s a good, decent man, he’s the kind of person we’re talking about. I didn’t plan on saying that.” Booker then encouraged attendees to donate to both Biden and Jones.