President Joe Biden, as expected, devoted a good deal of his State of the Union speech Tuesday night to Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the international condemnation it has drawn. But he did include LGBTQ+ issues, along with much discussion of the economy, immigration, criminal justice, and more. But some are questioning whether his comment on trans youth went far enough.
Biden gave a nod to LGBTQ+ people under the umbrella of “advancing liberty and justice.” “For our LGBTQ+ Americans, let’s finally get the bipartisan Equality Act to my desk,” he said. “The onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans and their families is wrong. As I said last year, especially to our younger transgender Americans, I will always have your back as your president, so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential.”
The Equality Act, which would ban anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination nationwide in employment, housing, public accommodations, and more, has been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in two consecutive sessions of Congress, as that chamber has a Democratic majority. However, it has not come to a vote in the Senate. That chamber has a 50-50 split between Democrats (including two independents allied with them) and Republicans, but it would take 60 votes to overcome a filibuster — that is, end debate on the bill and move to an actual vote. This barrier to the Equality Act and other progressive legislation, including voting rights, has led to calls to scrap or reform the filibuster.
The onslaught on trans youth and their families has been driven home recently by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that state authorities investigate parents who enable their children to receive gender-affirming medical care, as Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton consider that “child abuse.” Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union sued Tuesday to block this directive, on behalf of a family that has already been subjected to an investigation. U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat from Texas, brought an 8-year-old trans girl, Sunny Bryant, and her family to the State of the Union as her guest.
Biden’s remarks received praise from LGBTQ+ organizations, while some online commenters disdained them as mere lip service. A statement of praise came from Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD: “As state politicians target young transgender Americans and Texas Governor Greg Abbott dangerously threatens parents for caring for their own children, President Biden tonight shared a bold and unequivocal message of support for transgender people and all LGBTQ Americans. LGBTQ people are in every family and community, of every race, religion and in every region of the country. GLAAD research shows the LGBTQ community’s concerns are America’s concerns too, including how we rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic and heal from the severe toll on our mental and physical health. President Biden has delivered on commitments to include LGBTQ citizens in the promise of America. Every lawmaker at every level of government must commit to do the same, especially for LGBTQ families and children under attack. The state of our union is only as strong as our action and commitment to ensure no marginalized person is left behind. LGBTQ voters are more motivated than ever to hold elected officials accountable in the midterms.”
A sampling of further responses from Twitter:
Earlier in the day, trans actress and activist Angelica Ross had delivered her own State of the Union address, saying Biden needed to do more to protect LGBTQ+ Americans, especially the most marginalized among them, Black trans women.
“You say trans youth are brave and claimed to have their backs, and your administration has not done enough to sufficiently protect them,” she said in a remark aimed at Biden. “Talk is cheap. We need you to act.”