This Week in Trans News: Joe Biden Shows His Support
Transgender rights have yet to emerge as a major campaign focus in the presidential election, despite rumors that a large faction of conservatives wanted to use the issue to attack Democrats, according to an August POLITICO report. But after months of silence on the issue, trans rights finally received a bit of primetime spotlight.
At a presidential town hall hosted by ABC News last Thursday, a mom of a transgender girl asked Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden what steps he would take to reverse the Trump administration’s attacks on trans rights. Biden’s response was immediate and forceful.
“Flat out just change the law,” Biden said. “There should be zero discrimination.”
How the next administration will treat — and prioritize — trans issues is a key concern for the approximately 1.6 million trans adults and 700,000 trans minors in the US, especially given the last three and a half years of rollbacks from the Trump administration.
Since taking office in 2017, President Donald Trump has revoked an Obama-era guidance instructing schools how to best treat trans students, banned trans people from military service, reversed health care non-discrimination protections for trans people, and proposed a rule to allow homeless shelters to discriminate against trans people, among many other policies.
Biden had previously called trans rights the “civil rights issue of our time” after North Carolina passed HB2, the 2016 “bathroom bill” that banned trans people from using whichever facilities they choose.
But the longer version of Biden’s answer was more fumbled than it needed to be. He went on to tell a story about seeing two men kiss each other when he was a kid and how his father explained that they just loved each other. But he also mentioned a “man who changed to a woman” who used to work for his son, Beau Biden, on his campaign for Delaware state attorney general.
Calling a trans woman a man who changed to a woman is generally considered incorrect and impolite. It was a trans-specific language faux pas that has been typical of Democrats this campaign cycle. In a Democratic presidential primary debate last year, candidate Julian Castro misspoke in responding to a question about abortion rights, saying trans women need abortion access just as much as others. It’s trans men and nonbinary people who were assigned female at birth who need abortion access, though trans women have reproductive health needs of their own as well.
Biden was likely referring to Sarah McBride, an LGBTQ advocate and former White House intern who is currently favored to win election to the Delaware state Senate. McBride has deep ties to the Bidens, dating back to Beau’s campaign. The former vice president even wrote the foreword for McBride’s memoir, “Tomorrow Will Be Different.”
I don’t think this mistake should be a big deal, in the end. Compared with an electoral opponent who is surrounded by religious conservatives hell-bent on erasing trans people from public consciousness altogether, I’ll take a candidate who clearly cares about making life for trans Americans easier to navigate, even if he doesn’t always nail the right words when speaking of us.
I made that judgment in the context of Biden’s other words about trans people, those of his foreword in McBride’s book.
“We are at an inflection point in the fight for transgender equality,” Biden wrote in 2018. “[I]t’s not just a singular issue of identity, it’s about freeing the soul of America from the constraints of bigotry, hate, and fear, and opening people’s hearts and minds to what binds us all together.”