Here's what Biden could do to combat violence against LGBTQ people

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Biden first needs to reverse Trump's policies, said Human Rights Campaign's Alphonso David.

On Jan. 20, Joe Biden will be sworn in as president and members of Congress will return to work with Democratic control of the Senate and House.

Biden will have a chance to fulfill many of his promises, including his vow to address violence against transgender people. LGBTQ and anti-violence advocacy groups have ideas for what he can do to take on this problem and others.

At least 44 transgender or gender-nonconforming people were killed in 2020, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the highest the number has been since the group began tracking it in 2013.

The number of hate crimes targeting transgender people rose by 41% from 2017 to 2018 and increased by 6% for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people during the same period, according to the FBI's annual Hate Crime Statistics report, released in November of last year.

At the same time, the Trump administration has made numerous attacks on LGBTQ rights and worked to remove Obama-era protections from LGBTQ people in shelters, education, the workplace, and the criminal justice system.

Biden told Philadelphia Gay News in October, "During my first 100 days in office I will direct federal resources to help prevent violence against transgender women and transgender women of color."

He told the mother of a transgender girl at a town hall the same month, "The idea that an eight-year-old child or 10-year-old decides, you know, 'I want to be transgender. That's what I think I'd like to be. It would make my life a lot easier.' There should be zero discrimination. And what's happening is too many transgender women of color are being murdered. They're being murdered."

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said that Biden first needs to reverse Trump's policies and ensure that the Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton in favor of nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people is implemented across all federal agencies.

David said that this is needed to "prevent discrimination against transgender people so they don't end up on the streets because they're being discriminated against by a housing provider and being subjected to more violence." 

David would also like to see Biden's support for a federal ban on what is known as the LGBTQ "panic defense," using which an attacker can claim their violent actions were the justifiable result of a victim's sexual orientation or their being transgender. Only 11 states have prohibited the use of this defense tactic.

The Human Rights Campaign's Blueprint for Positive Change recommends that the Department of Justice "intensify efforts to encourage local law enforcement to report hate crime statistics annually" and implement more training and education initiatives to help communities address discrimination.

David said that the Human Rights Campaign provided the Biden transition team with the BluePrint for Positive Change "very soon after the election" and that the team is "incredibly supportive of the it."

The Biden transition team did not immediately respond to questions about their plans for reducing anti-LGBTQ violence.

LGBTQ advocacy and anti-violence groups also agree that the Biden administration should use federal resources to create an interagency working group to address the issue.

David said such a group could "really identify solutions to anti-transgender violence and come up with a plan to implement policy changes" and is something the administration could do soon after Biden's inauguration on Jan. 20. 

Cynthia Deitle, the director of civil rights reform with the Matthew Shepard Foundation and a former chief of the FBI's civil rights unit, said that if done right, such a group could produce "some meaningful results." Deitle pointed to a task force established in 1998 by Bill Clinton's attorney general, Janet Reno, to look into violence committed by anti-abortion extremists as a good example of such a group. 

"She got the right people in the room. There was an agenda. There was transparency. There were to-do lists. And I would be shocked if President-elect Biden didn't do this," Deitle said.

Deitle said Biden's picks for the Department of Justice, which include Merrick Garland as attorney general, Lisa Monaco as deputy attorney general, Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general, and Kristen Clarke as attorney general for civil rights, would ensure the department has staff with a "credible and dedicated history of diversity and inclusion, especially when it comes to the LGBTQ community."

The Matthew Shepard Foundation has also said the Biden White House should support and Congress needs to pass the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act, intended "To provide incentives for hate crime reporting, provide grants for State-run hate crime hotlines, and establish alternative sentencing for individuals convicted under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act," and the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which would create a new civil rights violation for for lynching.

David said the decriminalization of sex work is another step the Biden administration could take to make LGBTQ people safer.

"The criminalization of consensual sex work poses a serious threat to public health and it often increases violence in LGBTQ communities," he said. "That is a legislative change we would want the Biden administration to take a look at as well. A number of states have looked at that issue and are proposing legislative changes, but I think to have meaningful change or comprehensive change we would need something at the federal level."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.