Joe Biden's support for LGBTQ rights is no joke, whatever 'Saturday Night Live' says
Biden pointed his finger at my heart, said 'trans rights are human rights,' and told me about his plans to ensure no LGBTQ person gets left behind.
When “Saturday Night Live” returned this month for its 46th season, Colin Jost joked that despite Joe Biden’s overwhelming support from the LGBTQ community, “zero percent of them support Biden guessing what the B, T, and Q stand for.” It was an easy jab to make and relied on the perception of some that Biden is an old moderate who can be out of touch on social issues. But in reality, the former vice president has been far ahead of the curve among national leaders on LGBTQ equality and would usher in the most pro-LGBTQ presidential administration ever.
In 2012, in the midst of what many expected to be a tough reelection campaign for the Obama White House, Biden surprised the political world during an appearance on “Meet the Press” by becoming the first national leader to publicly support same-sex marriage. At the time, the country was split on whether it should be legalized, and many privately supportive politicians were publicly avoiding the issue. Indeed, Biden’s strong statement was seen as a gaffe at the time, primarily because of President Barack Obama’s reluctance to tackle the issue.
Surprising support for trans people
Biden made history in that moment but faced criticism in some quarters for supposedly putting other Democrats in a tough position. Instead, his remark — that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage — seemed to galvanize progressives and made the case for marriage equality an accessible one for many skeptical moderates. And now, nearly 70% of Americans support same-sex marriage, including half of Republicans.
Yet, far more telling is Joe Biden’s history of support for transgender and non-binary people, something that has surprised even the occasional seasoned political reporter when I’ve briefed them. A week before the election in 2012, Biden told the mother of a transgender child that discrimination against trans people is “the civil rights issue of our time,” in that moment the most assertive public statement of support by any national leader specifically addressing trans rights.
In 2017, he endorsed Danica Roem, the first openly trans person to be elected to a state legislature in U.S. history. Del. Roem — who has won rave reviews for her laser-like focus on constituent concerns like transportation — received a phone call from Biden the night she won and made history, captured in a photo that went viral. Two years prior, Roem had met Biden after the death of his son Beau Biden, and she wrote movingly of his empathy in that moment.
Sarah McBride, the first openly-trans person to speak at a national convention and currently in a bid to become the first openly-trans state senator in the United States, has spoken numerous times of the Biden family’s insistent public support for trans rights, specifically the vice president, who wrote the foreword to her memoir released in 2018.
The personal connection is one thing, but it’s the policy where Biden really shines. He and running mate Kamala Harris, who led opposition to California's gay marriage ban and has a lifetime perfect rating from the Human Rights Campaign, have been clear about their goals for LGBTQ equality — from overturning the ban on trans people serving openly in the military to ensuring the Equality Act is passed and signed into law as a priority when he’s elected. Despite marriage equality and employment protections being affirmed by the Supreme Court, LGBTQ people still face outright discrimination in housing, credit, education, public accommodations, federally-funded programs, and jury service in most of the United States. Trans and non-binary people — particularly Black women — are experiencing an ongoing epidemic of fatal violence, with 2020 being the deadliest year on record.
Skeptical until I met him
Even the most ardent progressives would have to concede that Biden is unusually knowledgeable on LGBTQ equality, and it shows. And yet, I will admit to having been skeptical myself until I met him.
Last year, I talked to Joe Biden at a presidential forum. Initially gregarious in his trademark way, he got very serious when I asked him directly about trans rights. His face changed, he leaned in, and pointed his finger at my heart. He said “trans rights are human rights” and talked with me about his plans to ensure no LGBTQ person gets left behind. I’ve had conversations with other politicians who publicly supported LGBTQ people but betrayed a surface-level knowledge and commitment in private. Biden is not one of them. His commitment to equality runs deep. You can feel it in your bones when you talk to him.
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That’s one of Joe Biden’s remarkable characteristics. For whatever detractors he may have, no politician so deftly rises above partisan rancor and brings people from their different camps to a reasonable and humane middle ground. It’s why when Andrew Yang observed that “the magic of Joe Biden is that everything he does becomes the new reasonable," it immediately made sense.
For Joe Biden, what matters is that all people can live and work in their full authenticity and provide for their families without threat to their safety and dignity. To him, we are not LGBTQ people in need of enhanced cultural framing but people who happen to be LGBTQ and deserve to have an equal stake in society just like everyone else, no better or worse.
Joe Biden doesn’t have to guess or pander about the lived experiences of LGBTQ people. He already knows us. He’s part of our family.
Charlotte Clymer, a former Human Rights Campaign press secretary, is a writer, LGBTQ advocate and military veteran. Follow her on Twitter: @cmclymer