In his first address to a joint session of Congress, President Joe Biden ranged over a wide variety of issues but took time to call for passage of the Equality Act and give a shout-out to transgender Americans.
After promoting his proposed American Jobs Plan, American Families Plan, police reform, and other measures, he said, "I also hope Congress can get to my desk the Equality Act to protect the rights of LGBTQ Americans."
"To all the transgender Americans watching at home -- especially the young people who are so brave -- I want you to know that your president has your back," Biden added.
The Equality Act, which was passed by the House in February but has yet to receive a vote in the Senate, would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity nationwide. It would apply to employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, federally funded programs, and many other aspects of life.
On his first day in office, January 20, Biden signed an executive order implementing last year's Bostock v. Clayton County Supreme Court decision across the federal government. That ruling declared that anti-LGBTQ+ job discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and therefore illegal.
The Biden administration is applying the ruling's principles to other venues in addition to employment. But writing these principles into law, which is what the Equality Act would do, would mean an antidiscrimination policy couldn't just be undone by another president.
Trans Americans, meanwhile, have found themselves targeted by state-level bills aimed at keeping trans youth from competing in sports under their gender identity or denying them gender-affirming health care. Biden has said trans rights are the civil rights issue of our time, and one of his earliest acts in office was lifting Donald Trump's trans military ban.
On other issues, Biden touted his American Jobs Plan, which would use federal funds to create jobs in infrastructure, clean energy, and more, and the American Families Plan, which would provide universal preschool, free community college, and up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, while expanding access to child care.
He called on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to assure equal pay for equal work regardless of gender; reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act; enact gun safety legislation; root out systemic racism and pass police reform; combat hate crimes against Asian and Pacific Islander Americans; raise the minimum wage to $15; ensure workers' right to join unions; protect voting rights; address climate change; reform the immigration system; take steps to fight cancer; and make health care more affordable and accessible.
"We have a giant opportunity to bend to the arc of the moral universe toward justice. Real justice," Biden said.
He also touted his administration's response to COVID-19 and its economic fallout, with more than 220 million vaccine shots delivered in the first 100 days of his presidency and passage of the American Rescue Plan. The economy has created 1.3 million jobs in that period, he added.
Early on in his speech, he noted that he was the first president to say the words "Madam Vice President," a reference to Kamala Harris, the first woman to hold that post (and first person of color). "No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it's about time," he said.
LGBTQ+ rights activists praised his mentions of the Equality Act and trans Americans.
"The Biden administration has made it clear through their actions that they are allies in the fight for equality and justice for LGBTQ people here in the United States and across the globe," said a statement from Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. "And tonight, we were pleased to hear the president tell Congress directly that passing the Equality Act remains a top priority of his administration, and must be a top priority for the United States Senate. Equality and justice are not partisan goals -- they are the bedrock on which our country was founded.
"LGBTQ people continue to face discrimination in many areas including health care, housing, education and other critical areas of life; bias-motivated violence; and other limits on our ability to fully and freely live our lives. Especially in this moment, when LGBTQ rights are under attack in several states across the country, it was important to see President Biden make it clear tonight that his priority would be continuing our shared fight to ensure that every American has access to the fullness of opportunity our country affords. To that point, we were especially heartened to hear the president specifically uplift his support for transgender people and particularly affirm transgender kids.
"Additionally, President Biden made it clear that he supports many more policies that are critical to the LGBTQ community in this country: access to affordable health care and vaccines for all; gun violence prevention; voting rights; police and criminal justice reform; and immigration reform. The Human Rights Campaign applauds the president's speech tonight, his actions over his first 100 days in office, and the clear drive his administration has to make our country safer and more equal for all."
PFLAG National Executive Director Brian K. Bond, who previously served in the Obama-Biden administration, issued this statement: "We are grateful to President Biden for his unwavering support of our LGBTQ+ loved ones. His commitment to passing the Equality Act -- critical legislation that would modernize our nation's civil rights laws by including explicit protections for LGBTQ people, as well as improve protections for women, people of color, people with different national origins, and people of all faiths -- has meant so much to our families. We are also moved by his vocal support of our trans kids, whose rights and very lives have been under assault with hundreds of dangerous and damaging bills in 33 states across this country.
"PFLAGers everywhere join the president in calling on Congress to pass the Equality Act. Our families will continue doing the work of bravely sharing their stories with legislators about why the Equality Act would protect their LGBTQ+ loved ones -- and the ways in which these dangerous and damaging anti-trans bills are hurting their kids."
NextGen America Executive Director Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez added, "After four long, devastating years, we were reminded tonight what it sounds like to have strong, empathetic leadership in the White House. President Biden's first 100 days have brought us much-needed pandemic relief and plans to improve the country on everything from college affordability to LGBTQ+ rights and police reform. We have a great deal of work to do, but young people's record turnout has brought us a future full of possibility. In addition to pushing his bold legislative agenda through Congress, the president should take immediate action to cancel at least $50,000 per borrower in student loan debt."