Within his first hours of becoming the 46th president, Joe Biden signed a number of executive orders. One was a sweeping decree aimed at preventing discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. It reverses the Trump administration’s policies that banned federal agencies and contractors from providing diversity training using curriculum that explores race and gender bias.
Biden promised forward-looking LGBTQ policies during the campaign, and some local advocates are cheering these early moves. Terra Russell Slavin is one of them. She is the Director of Policy and Community Building at the LA LGBT Center.
She says the last four years under Trump have been rough.
“The Trump administration enacted more than 180 anti-LGBTQ actions and we have been constantly having to push back against this to ensure that our community has access to services and can thrive,” she says. “We are very fortunate to live in California, where there already exists a lot of these protections. But the actions that were happening at the federal level did impact us and they were a direct threat to our community.”
In Russell Slavin’s opinion, the new president will need to both undo discriminatory policies from the last administration while also moving forward new ones. That includes moving forward with his promise to reverse the transgender military ban.
“The fact that people who could serve this country are being kept out is just abhorrent. So, I think this will be great. We hope to see that in the next few days,” she says.
Biden’s recent executive order hits close to home for the advocate. In November, the LA LGBT Center joined Lamba Legal in suing Trump for his now-reversed ban on diversity training.
Russell Slavin says, “What that was going to do was sort of essentially prohibit organizations, companies, all these people from doing the necessary work of acknowledging racism, acknowledging sexism in the workplace. That would have had an impact for programs and organizations across this country. This is a really big step.”
Biden even went a step further. “He also expanded and made clear that such basic protections in federal law include sexual orientation and gender identity” she says.
Earlier this week, Biden nominated Dr. Rachel Levine as the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services. She would be the first openly transgender woman to be confirmed by the Senate. Russell Slavin says that move is important, especially as the transgender community faces disproportiate rates of violence and health disparities.
“I think it really sends a strong message that this administration is going to take the health and wellness of the trans community as of utmost importance,” she says.
What else does the Biden-Harris Administration need to do for the LGBTQ community? Push the Equality Act, says Russell Slavin. Biden also could prioritize legislation that gets services and funding to LGBTQ communities and centers.
“Right now, when you look at the global pandemic, whether we are talking about food security, delayed medical care, financial loss; all of those issues are disproportionately impacting the LGBT community. We can't just have formal equality. We need to live to equality. And that's going to take a real investment in our communities which have historically been left out.”