On Wednesday afternoon, June 15, at a Pride Month reception hosted by the White House, U.S. President Joseph R. Biden signed an executive order, that, among a host of pro-LGBTQ actions, counters attempts by various states to restrict the rights and freedoms of transgender youth and cuts off federal funding for conversion therapy.
First Lady Jill Biden kicked off ceremony, addressing a crowd of LGBTQ advocates, LGBTQ youth, parents, LGBTQ-headed families, and allies.
“[E]very year that we gather here in our nation’s capital is a reminder of just how far we’ve come,” the First Lady said. “But we know that this progress hasn’t reached everyone in the same way. We know that in places across the country like Florida, Texas or Alabama, rights are under attack. And we know that in small towns and big cities, prejudice and discrimination still lurk.
“Pride is a celebration of the courage it takes to stand up for what’s right, to become the leaders we need, to live an authentic life. We recognize it as an act of bravery and beauty, of daring and defiance. And we look forward to a time when that courage is no longer needed, when all people in all places can feel the freedom and the joy that we feel here today.”
Following remarks from Javier Gomez, a Florida student who helped lead his school’s protest against the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, Biden took the podium.
He noted that equality has not fully been realized for members of the LGBTQ community, who have been targeted by what he dubbed an “ultra-MAGA agenda,” referring to the campaign slogan and anti-LGBTQ policies of his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
“I don’t have to tell you about the ultra-MAGA agenda attacking families and our freedoms. [More than] 300 discriminatory bills introduced in states across this country,” Biden said, referring to a slew of bills introduced in various state legislatures seeking to restrict LGBTQ people’s rights or ability to access certain services or facilities. “In Texas, knocking on front doors to harass and investigate parents who are raising transgender children. In Florida, going after Mickey Mouse, for God’s sake.”
Many of those anti-LGBTQ bills — most of which have been introduced by Republican lawmakers — have targeted transgender youth, preventing them from competing in sports based on their gender identity, and barring them from obtaining gender-affirming care, accessing gender-affirming restrooms and locker rooms, and allowing teachers and fellow students to misgender them in the name of “free speech” or “freedom of religion.”
“All of you in this room know better than anyone that these attacks are real and consequential for real families,” Biden said, casting the fight against those anti-LGBTQ bills as part of a larger “battle for the soul” of the United States.
Biden’s executive order stops short of an outright federal ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, highlighting the need for the Equality Act, a comprehensive LGBTQ civil rights bill, to close the remaining loopholes that enable discrimination to continue. That bill has passed the House of Representatives but has stalled in the U.S. Senate due to the threat of a Republican-led filibuster.
Specifically, Biden’s executive order directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to protect trans youth and families from laws restricting their ability to access gender-affirming care or seeking to prosecute parents for allowing their children to access such care, and to release new sample policies for states on how to expand access to comprehensive, LGBTQ-competent health care services for all patients.
The order directs the U.S. Department of Education to address the impact of laws targeting LGBTQ students, and charges the department with releasing new sample policies for ensuring LGBTQ youth are not discriminated against in schools. This includes the creation of a working group to examine and craft model LGBTQ-inclusive school policies.
Biden’s executive order also seeks to cut off federal funding for so-called “conversion therapy,” which — depending on the practitioner — either promises to “change” a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or promises to give a person who is struggling with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria advice on techniques they can utilize to curb their feelings or urges in order to avoid engaging in same-sex or gender-nonconforming behavior.
Most major medical and mental health organizations have condemned conversion therapy as ineffective, lacking scientific evidence for its claims, and potentially harmful to those subjected to it, increasing feelings of loneliness, depression, and suicidal ideation.
An analysis by the Williams Institute, a LGBTQ-focused policy think tank at the UCLA School of Law, found that gay and bisexual adults who were subjected to conversion therapy were 92% more likely to have lifetime suicidal ideation, 75% more likely to plan to commit suicide, and 88% more likely to attempt suicide.
Similarly, a peer-reviewed study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that LGBTQ youth who were subjected to conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide when compared to their peers who have not undergone the therapy, and more than two-and-a-half times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts over the past year.
To curb the practice, Biden’s executive order directs HHS to issue guidance clarifying that federally-funded programs cannot offer conversion therapy.
HHS will also increase public awareness about the risk associated with the therapy, provide training and technical assistance to health care providers, and expand support services for survivors of the therapy.
The Biden administration is also encouraging the Federal Trade Commission to consider whether the practice constitutes an unfair or deceptive act or practice, and whether to issue consumer warnings or notices.
The Departments of State, Treasury, and HHS will be directed to develop an action plan to discourage conversion therapy and ensure that therapists who engaged in the practice do not receive U.S. foreign aid.
To combat LGBTQ youth homelessness, Biden’s order directs the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to launch a new “Working Group on LGBTQI+ Homelessness and Housing Equity.” That group will provide guidance on addressing the barriers to housing facing LGBTQ people, ensuring access to culturally competent housing providers, and seek out new funding opportunities for LGBTQ-inclusive housing services.
Biden’s order also directs HHS to strengthen nondiscrimination protections in the foster care system, launch a new initiative, in which HHS will partner with state child welfare agencies to improve outcomes for LGBTQ youth in the foster care system, provide LGBTQ-competent training to child welfare personnel, promote placements of LGBTQ-identifying children into supportive home environments, and examine disproportionate rates of child removals from LGBTQ-led households, especially those headed by women of color.
Biden’s order will require HHS to conduct a study of how current eligibility standards for federal programs impact LGBTQ-lead households, and require the department to issue recommendations for more inclusive standards. The Office of Management and Budget will be tasked with coordinating with agencies as they seek to implement those new inclusive policies, programs, and services.
To promote better mental health outcomes among LGBTQ youth, the executive order charges HHS to expand youth access to suicide prevention resources, and issue guidance on how best to connect LGBTQ youth with scientifically-based mental health services.
It directs HHS to expand access to voluntary family counseling and programs to support families with LGBTQ-identifying youth. It also directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the impact of family rejection on the mental health and long-term wellbeing of LGBTQ individuals.
The executive order directs the U.S. Attorney General to establish a new clearinghouse within the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to provide better training and resources for jurisdictions on how to serve LGBTQ-identifying youth in the juvenile justice system.
The order directs HHS to publish a “Bill of Rights for LGBTQI+ Older Adults,” issue guidance on ensuring LGBTQ people are not discriminated against in long-term care facilities, and create rules to guarantee LGBTQ individuals are included in the definition of populations of “greatest social need” under the Older Americans Act.
Lastly, the order calls for greater collection of sexual orientation and gender identity data by federal agencies to gauge whether LGBTQ individuals are accessing programs and services for which they may be eligible.
Biden sought to cast his executive order as a series of actions by federal agencies that would make LGBTQ individuals’ daily lives better by establishing environments where they can be affirmed and guaranteed that their rights will be protected.
“Right now, there are young people sitting in their bedroom, doors closed, silent, scrolling through social media, staring at the ceiling, wondering if they’ll ever be loved, ever married, ever have a family and be accepted by their own families,” the president said before signing the executive order into law.
“My message to all the young people: just be you. You are loved. You are heard. You are understood. You do belong. I want you to know that as your president, all of us on this stage have your back.”