March 5, 2020 at 7:00 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Biden unveils extensive LGBTQ plan, drawing on Obama-era achievements
Former Vice President Joe Biden at the CNN and Des Moines Register’s Democratic presidential debate. (Photo courtesy CNN/Des Moines Register)

Democratic presidential candidate Joseph Biden unveiled on Thursday a comprehensive plan to advance LGBTQ rights, pledging to support policies and legislation against anti-LGBTQ discrimination and to protect LGBTQ human rights advances across the globe.

“As president, Biden will stand with the LGBTQ+ community to ensure America finally lives up to the promise on which it was founded: equality for all,” the plan says. “He will provide the moral leadership to champion equal rights for all LGBTQ+ people, fight to ensure our laws and institutions protect and enforce their rights, and advance LGBTQ+ equality globally.”

Leading with a quote from Biden on “Meet the Press” in 2012, when he famously came out in favor of marriage equality, the 17-page plan draws heavily on the advancement of LGBTQ rights during the Obama administration when Biden was vice president.

“During the Obama-Biden administration, the United States made historic strides toward LGBTQ+ equality ​—​ from the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to Biden’s historic declaration in support of marriage equality on ​’Meet the Press’ ​in 2012​ to the unprecedented advancement of protections for LGBTQ+ Americans at the federal level,” the plan says.

Biden’s plan is consistent with priorities on LGBTQ rights Biden has articulated on the campaign trail, including making the Equality Act, international LGBTQ human rights and banning conversion therapy nationwide his top priorities.

But the plan goes into further detail, pledging to apply laws against sex discrimination to cases of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, creating a third-gender option on U.S. government documents and reversing Trump administration policies enabling anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the name of religious freedom.

Drawing on Biden’s expertise in foreign policy, the plan goes into significant detail on the candidate’s pledge to advance LGBTQ human rights overseas, asserting Biden spoke out against anti-LGBT abuses in Chechnya, El Salvador, Malaysia and Uganda.

“As president, Biden will restore the United States’ standing as a global leader defending LGBTQ+ rights and development and work closely with our partners and like-minded governments to ensure that violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals do not go unchecked,” the plan says.

The plan makes protecting human rights generally a priority, but also promises to protect human rights specifically by reappointing a special envoy to advance international LGBTQ rights, forming a coalition of countries to advance international LGBTQ rights and guiding the GLOBE Act into passage.

Biden unveils the plan after enjoying a remarkable comeback in the Democratic primary on Super Tuesday, when he routed his remaining opponents and disrupted the media narrative that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was a lock on the presidential nomination.

Ahead of the primary, Biden won support from LGBTQ leaders, including former Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin and Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the lawsuit that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide.

In response to a Blade inquiry on how the plan came together and if Griffin had a hand in writing it, a Biden campaign spokesperson said “the plan was crafted inclusive of voices across the LGBTQ+ community, from thought leaders, organizations, every day people, and more.”

Sanders, who is now Biden’s sole competition for the Democratic presidential nomination, isn’t referenced in the plan. A look at Sanders’s website reveals a page dedicated to LGBTQ issues, which articulates bullet-points for policy and recalls the Vermont independent’s record in support of LGBTQ rights, including his vote in 1996 against the Defense of Marriage Act. (Biden as a U.S. senator voted for the anti-gay bill.)

But President Trump is another matter. Biden blames the Trump administration for going backwards on LGBTQ rights after the Obama era, accusing Trump and Vice President Mike Pence of having “given hate against LGBTQ+ individuals safe harbor and rolled back critical protections for the LGBTQ+ community.”

“Hate and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people started long before Trump and Pence took office,” the plan says. “Defeating them will not solve the problem, but it is an essential first step in order to resume our march toward equality.”

Biden also seeks to one-up Trump on one of his few initiatives seen to help LGBTQ people: Ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States. In his State of the Union addresses before Congress, Trump has pledged to beat the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030, but Biden sets a goal instead of 2025.

“Biden has fought for access to treatment for people with HIV/AIDS and funding for HIV/AIDS research, and he helped pass and expand the Global AIDS program (PEPFAR),” the plan says. “As president, he will re-commit to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025.”

Key to Biden’s plan is updating the National AIDS Strategy, which was first developed during the Obama administration, fully funding the Ryan White Health Care Program and making PrEP more available for HIV prevention.

Biden’s plan is along the lines of LGBTQ platforms unveiled by other Democratic candidates who have since dropped from the presidential race, including Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Seven of the Democratic candidates, including Biden, also fleshed out their LGBTQ rights proposals in response to a questionnaire from the Human Rights Campaign, so much of Biden’s vision for LGBTQ rights was already known.

However, despite some calls to issue a thorough plan on advancing LGBTQ rights, Biden didn’t lay out his agenda until today, when the other candidates with now defunct campaigns did so late last year.

One slight difference between Biden’s plan and others is the gay blood ban, which was eased during the Obama administration from a lifetime to ban on donations to a ban on blood from men who’ve had gay sex within the past year before a donation.

Warren pledged to “lift this ban completely” and Buttigieg sought to “end the blanket ban on blood donation from people including gay and bisexual men,” but Biden, consistent with guidance from the Human Rights Campaign, more modestly promises to work with the Food & Drug Administration to “ensure regulations are based on science, not fiction or stigma.”

Sanders makes no mention of the gay blood ban on his website, but has signed letters as a member of the U.S. Senate calling on the FDA to lift the ban on gay blood.

(UPDATE: Sanders set up a contrast with Biden on the gay blood ban via an email to the Blade from Sarah Ford, a Sanders campaign spokesperson.

“It’s an outrage that homophobia and stigma has prevented gay and bisexual men from donating blood like everyone else,” Ford said.
“As President, Bernie would end the ban, period.”)

Biden’s plan also makes no mention of any of the LGBTQ-related cases before the Supreme Court. (Warren had mentioned the Title VII cases in her plan, but Buttigieg did not. Sanders’s website also makes no mention of the cases.)

Currently, the Supreme Court is weighing whether anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, thus illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Other litigation will determine whether religious schools have a First Amendment right to hire based on their religious beliefs, which would mean they could discriminate against LGBTQ teachers, and whether faith-based adoption agencies have a right consistent with their beliefs to refuse child placement into LGBTQ homes.

The results of these cases will shake up the terrain on LGBTQ rights tremendously, especially if the Supreme Court grants a First Amendment right to discriminate, but Biden’s plan doesn’t mention them or how those rulings would fit with his strategy.

Although the Supreme Court cases aren’t mentioned in the Biden plan, the candidate has brought them up on Twitter and during the CNN town hall on LGBTQ issues.

The Blade has a placed a follow-up email with the Biden campaign seeking comment on why Biden waited until now to issue the plan.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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