Biden pushes for more LGBTQ protections on anniversary of 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal

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President Joe Biden is promoting the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, employment, health care, jury service, and more

President Joe Biden on Monday issued a statement marking the 10th anniversary of the formal end of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that barred LGBTQ people from serving openly in the U.S. military. The statement, posted on the White House's website, included a call for Congress to pass the Equality Act.

On Dec. 22, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the repeal of the policy, which allowed gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members to serve in the armed forces only if they kept their sexual orientation a secret. On Sept. 20, 2011, Obama, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen formally certified that the Defense Department had finished implementing the policy.

In his statement, Biden said, "Ten years ago today, a great injustice was remedied and a tremendous weight was finally lifted off the shoulders of tens of thousands of dedicated American service members. The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which formally barred gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from openly serving, helped move our nation closer to its foundational promise of equality, dignity, and opportunity for all."

Biden ended the statement by calling for the passage of federal legislation to clarify and expand nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people: "We must honor their sacrifice by continuing the fight for full equality for LGBTQ+ people, including by finally passing the Equality Act and living up to our highest values of justice and equality for all."

The bill would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, employment, health care, jury service, and more.

The Supreme Court ruled in June 2020 in Bostock v. Clayton County that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is discrimination on the basis of sex. LGBTQ policy experts and the Biden administration have argued that the decision goes beyond employment and applies to many other areas, including housing and education. The Equality Act would cement these protections by explicitly mentioning LGBTQ people and providing greater protection to all people facing sex-based discrimination, including in public accommodations such as restaurants and hotels.

In February, the House passed the Equality Act, but it has not passed the Senate, where filibuster rules mean supporters of the bill need to find 60 votes to secure its passage in the chamber. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) are among the Democratic lawmakers who have said the filibuster needs to be abolished to get the Equality Act and other legislation passed.

"The filibuster was used to block civil rights legislation in the 1960s. It's still standing in the way of civil rights protections today," Jayapal tweeted.

Veterans groups have been among those advocating for passage of the Equality Act, saying LGBTQ veterans should live free from discrimination in every area of their lives. Jeremy Butler, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement released by the Freedom for All Americans campaign in May, "LGBTQ service members put their lives on the line to defend our country's values and they must similarly be ensured freedom from discrimination at home."

The statement also quoted, Jennifer Dane, CEO and executive director of the Modern Military Association of America, an organization for LGBTQ service members, who said:

Millions of our nation's service members have been LGBTQ, at least 114,000 of which were unfairly discharged under discriminatory policies like 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' To this day, LGBTQ veterans continue to face challenges accessing basic services and rights they deserve. Passing nondiscrimination legislation at the federal level is the only way to ensure the safety, access to care and employment, and basic dignity and respect all human beings deserve regardless of who they are or who they love.

Democratic lawmakers have also introduced bills that specifically seek to improve the lives of LGBTQ veterans and service members' LGBTQ dependents this year.

On Sept. 3, Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH) introduced the SERVE Act, aimed at making sure that LGBTQ people discharged because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, including during the eras of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Trump administration's transgender military ban, can still receive Veterans Affairs benefits.

Earlier, during Pride Month in June, Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) introduced the Armed Forces Trans­gen­der Dependent Protection Act, a bill that would help transgender children of service members access the gender-affirming health care they need, such as hormone treatments, by preventing the member on whom they are dependent from being stationed in states or countries with restrictions on such care.

Neither bill has passed the House.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.