9 bills Biden can fight for to make LGBTQ lives better when he takes office

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Joe Biden promised the LGBTQ community he would fight for them. Here's what they want.

As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden vowed to work toward LGBTQ equality. At an ABC News town hall in October, he told the mother of a transgender girl that there should be "zero discrimination" against transgender people and that he would take action to reverse many of Donald Trump's anti-LGBTQ policies.

Only a few days before the election, Biden said he would make the Equality Act, which would prohibit a number of forms of discrimination against LGBTQ people, a legislative priority in his first 100 days in office. In an interview with Philadelphia Gay News, he also said he supported the passage of the LGBTQ Essential Data Act and Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, which LGBTQ groups have also championed.

He was also the first president-elect to thank transgender voters in an acceptance speech and has assembled a transition team that includes several LGBTQ staffers who could influence his agenda as president.

Now that LGBTQ advocacy groups will have an ally in the White House, they're laying out a clear agenda for what they hope to see from the new administration — from banning conversion therapy to helping LGBTQ veterans access services and employment.

Just how much Biden will be able to do depends in part on whether Democrats win both of the Georgia Senate runoffs on Jan. 5, thereby giving them control of the Senate. Several bills that advocates support have already passed in the Democratic-led House, only to be dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate.

But if Democrats are able to take back the Senate, a number of organizations focused on LGBTQ rights — including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, The Trevor Project, and the Modern Military Association of America — have a list of bills they want to see passed that could make life better for LGBTQ people across the country.

The Equality Act

In 2019, the House passed the Equality Act, which would make it crystal clear that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes protections for LGBTQ people. It bans discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, education, employment, federal programs, public accommodations, and credit and lending. One-hundred and seventy-three House Republicans voted against it. It has not been taken up for a vote in the Senate.

The Human Rights Campaign's report on the killing of transgender people, which has reached record levels since the organization began tracking these incidents, advocated for the Equality Act as one tool to reduce violence against transgender people because discrimination places transgender people in unsafe conditions that make them vulnerable to violence.

Biden has said that passing the Equality Act is a "top" priority for him.

Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act

The Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act would "provide incentives for hate crime reporting, provide grants for State-run hate crime hotlines, and establish alternative sentencing" for those convicted under current federal hate crimes legislation, according to the bill's text. It would amend the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act to allow a court to order that a person convicted of such crimes must "undertake educational classes or community service directly related to the community harmed" as a condition of their release.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation said the White House and new members of Congress should make the legislation a priority. The Human Rights Campaign's report on violence against trans people supports this legislation because it says the voluntary reporting of hate crimes to the FBI means there is low reporting of hate crimes, which does not reflect the true number of hate crimes.

Restore Honor to Service Members Act

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual veterans who were discharged because of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law, which was repealed in 2010, would have their military records upgraded under the bill.

Jennifer Dane, executive director of Modern Military of America, said the pandemic has made the legislation even more urgent because more veterans have lost work, and there may be fewer job opportunities for those veterans with negative discharges. 

"If there’s a job application that indicates you have been discharged dishonorably, in checking that box you have to do that and with no explanation. Because the discharges were under either Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or previous policies, there’s not been a sweeping policy that has taken effect that can right the wrongs of this policies," Dane said.

LGB veterans going back to school don't have access to the benefits of the GI Bill and aren't allowed to have burial services with military honors, Dane said, which she said is "devastating" for LGB veterans and their families.

Although Dane said this could be achieved through executive order, she said it's better for LGB veterans in the long run if the policy is codified into law. The bill was introduced in the Senate in June 2019, where it has languished in the Committee on Armed Services.

Raise the Wage Act

The Raise Wage Act, which would incrementally increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, passed the House in 2019. But, like hundreds of other bills passed by the House in the last two years, the GOP-controlled Senate has refused to hold a vote on it.

Raising the minimum wage is crucial for LGBTQ people, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, because they more likely to live in poverty and be dependent on the minimum wage than straight and cisgender people.

Tyrone Hanley, senior policy counsel for National Center for Lesbian Rights, said, "As an organization that believes in racial justice and economic justice, we believe that that its important for us as LGBTQ org to prioritize and listen to people's most pressing needs and that includes making sure that the minimum wage is actually allowing people to afford housing and food and other basic necessities." 

Hanley said that to prevent violence against transgender women of color, who are the majority of transgender people killed in 2020 and previous years, policymakers need to focus on improving their economic conditions.

"What gets missed in the conversation about violence against trans women of color is the violence they experience violence in daily life that does not include murder and that is poverty," he said. "Poverty is trauma. Poverty causes so much immense violence on people, families, and communities that we as a society have not fully grappled with."

Medicare for All

The National Center for Lesbian Rights says a Biden administration should support Medicare for All, partly because it includes nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, and 15% of LGBTQ people are uninsured compared to 12% of straight and cisgender people.

Hanley added that everyone, including LGBTQ people, who have been denied employment because they are LGBTQ, should always have access to health care regardless of their employment status.

"A system that is employer-focused inherently causes inequality in access to health care and so it is our view that people should be able to access quality health care regardless of their employment status ... We believe that all people, including trans people and queer people, should be able to have access to that human right," Hanley said.

After Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the bill in April 2019, it was referred to the Committee on Finance, where it has stayed since.

Bills focusing on "conversion therapy"

The Trevor Project, a group that focuses on suicide prevention in the LGBTQ community, is calling for the passage of two bills that relate to so-called conversion therapy, a discredited and harmful practice that tries to force LGBTQ people to change their gender or sexual orientation. 

The Prevention of Medicaid Funding for Conversion Therapy Act, which was introduced in the House in March 2019, would ban the use of Medicaid and Medicare funding for "conversion therapy."

The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, introduced in June of the same year, would ensure that the harmful practice, when advertised or provided in exchange for money, is classified as consumer fraud. 

"Conversion therapy has proven to produce negative mental health outcomes and increase the risk of suicide," said Troy Stevenson, senior advocacy campaign manager for the Trevor Project. Stevenson explained that the group's research shows that LGBTQ youth who have been subjected to the practice "were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide as those who did not."

"That’s why this dangerous practice has been discredited and opposed by major medical associations and prohibited among licensed health care professionals in 20 states and more than 80 localities," Stevenson said.

Legislation that improves LGBTQ data

Stevenson said the LGBTQ Data Inclusion Act and LGBTQ Essential Data Act are essential to understand how LGBTQ people experience mental health disparities and suicide, employment discrimination, barriers to health care, and homelessness. The bills were introduced in the House in the summer of 2019 and haven't advanced since then.

"In order to better understand the impact of various issues on LGBTQ people and to properly allocate resources in response, LGBTQ people need to be counted," he said. "That’s why it is so crucial that all federal government surveys and research include questions on sexual orientation and gender identity in demographic data collection."

The LGBTQ Data Inclusion Act requires federal agencies to review their data and what information they collect on LGBTQ people and to whether they need to change surveys accordingly. The LGBTQ Essential Data Act tells the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to collect information on LGBTQ deceased people more often through the National Violent Death Reporting System.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.