President-elect Joe Biden is saying that LGBTQ people may have to wait more than 100 days for the Equality Act but that he’s going to get moving right away on ending the transgender military ban.
Biden had previously said that he would sign the Equality Act into law in his first 100 days in office, but in a conference call with LGBTQ activists, his transition team said that that may be difficult in the face of the coronavirus vaccine rollout and the Senate’s impeachment trial for Donald Trump. Sources on the call tell LGBTQ Nation that Democrats don’t think they can advance the legislation in the Senate despite holding the majority.
The team, though, stressed that Biden will immediately begin the process of reversing Trump’s transgender military ban. It may take a year for transgender people to be allowed to serve openly in the military, even if Biden starts the process on his first day in office.
The Equality Act was Biden’s biggest promise when it comes to LGBTQ equality. If passed, the law would add sexual orientation and gender identity to existing federal civil rights laws, banning discrimination against LGBTQ people in housing, public accommodations, credit, and other areas, and reinforce the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton Co. that found that the government’s ban on job discrimination “because of sex” includes discrimination against LGBTQ people.
The bill has been introduced in Congress repeatedly since 2015, passing the House in 2019 with little Republican support but never coming up for a vote in the Republican-held Senate. Trump himself opposes the Equality Act.
Now that Democrats control the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House, the bill has a solid chance of passing into law. But multiple crises in Washington will slow the process. The bill will be handled by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the same committee that’s handling Trump’s impeachment proceedings.
“I think we’ve gotten the commitments that we expected and hoped for and sought from the Biden team and from legislative leadership, and what that means for us now is holding them accountable, but also understanding that the country, our democracy, and the ability of people to actually live is going to take priority,” one LGBTQ advocate who was on the conference call told the Washington Blade.
“The notion that our government can only focus on one thing at a time isn’t acceptable,” another Democrat said. “You can’t have the agenda and policy goals that Biden does and not have the process to move faster.”
A third unnamed source who spoke to the Blade said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is still expected to bring the bill up for a vote in the first 100 days of the Biden administration, the hold-up will just be the Senate. Pelosi herself has not commented on when the bill will come up for a vote.
Speaking to LGBTQ Nation, two people who heard the explanation pointed out that while the pandemic and impeachment were cited as speed bumps, the true problem lies with a handful of moderate Republicans needed to advance the bill to a vote. 60 votes are needed to end debate and proceed to a vote. With Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris’ vote, Democrats would only have 51 votes.
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) is normally a solid vote in favor of LGBTQ rights but is reportedly peeved that she lost support from the community for her re-election bid after she voted against convicting President Donald Trump the first time he was impeached. The Human Rights Campaign, a major force behind the bill, dropped their support for the senator and instead endorsed her opponent. Collins reportedly holds a grudge.
The transgender military ban was announced by Trump in a tweet in 2017 and was later formalized by the Trump administration, but it never passed Congress. Biden, therefore, will not have to go through Congress to reverse it.
Most of Trump’s other attacks on LGBTQ rights – and particularly transgender protections – did not pass Congress and can be overturned by the Biden administration without Congress acting. Federal law, though, often requires a lengthy process for executive departments to change rules and guidance.