Biden signs wide-ranging executive order on conversion therapy, LGBTQ youth

  • by Chris Johnson, Washington Blade
  • Wednesday June 15, 2022
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President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order advancing the administration's goals on LGBTQ equity. Photo: Courtesy NBC News
President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order advancing the administration's goals on LGBTQ equity. Photo: Courtesy NBC News

President Joe Biden, in recognition of Pride Month during a reception with LGBTQ leaders and advocates at the White House, on June 15 signed a wide-ranging executive order advancing his administration's goals for LGBTQ policy, which includes new prohibitions on widely discredited conversion therapy and resources for parents and children in states enacting laws against transgender youth.

The executive order is the latest measure from the Biden administration building on its reputation for steadfast support for transgender and nonbinary youth, who are the targets of more than 300 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation in state legislatures and new state laws. Many of these measures ban transgender girls from sports consistent with their gender identity or penalize medical providers and parents for providing transition-related care for youth.

Key components of Biden's order direct U.S. departments and agencies, including the Department of Health & Human Services and the Department of Education, to develop regulations and policies that would counteract the state measures, according to a White House fact sheet.

Among the components of the directive:

— HHS and the Department of Education are tasked with developing sample policies for states on expanding access to health care for LGBTQ youth and developing policies for "achieving full inclusion for LGBTQ students";

— HHS is tasked with leading an initiative against conversion therapy, which is set to clarify federal funds cannot be used for the practice, increase public awareness about its harms and provide support to survivors;

— the secretaries of State, Treasury, and HHS are directed to develop an action plan to promote an end to conversion therapy overseas and ensure that U.S. foreign assistance dollars don't fund the practices;

— HHS is set to publish a "Bill of Rights for LGBTQI+ Older Adults" as well as guidance on the non-discrimination protections for older adults in nursing homes and other long-term care settings.

Gay Congressmember Mark Takano (D-Riverside) praised Biden in a tweet, hailing his "fighting for equality by signing an Executive Order to support LGBTQ+ children and families and address discriminatory attacks against them, prevent conversion therapy, and safeguard healthcare. We now have a president who champions the rights of the LGBTQ+ community."

In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday ahead of the signing of the executive order, senior administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity laid out the key components of the measure and put the executive order into context of the Biden administration's broader mission for equity and inclusion.

Asked by the Washington Blade if the White House is anticipating a response from states that have enacted laws against transgender and nonbinary youth, many of which have taken the Biden administration to court over federal policies, a senior administration official declined to say.

"We don't know," the official said. "The focus is not really on what their response will be. What we're focused on is responding to the frankly un-American policies they're pushing through state legislatures. They're going after kids, they're going after families just because of who they are, and the president has said repeatedly that he will stand with LGBTQI youth and families and people across the country. That's what this executive order is going to do."

The executive order, however, falls short of the Biden campaign's pledge to sign the Equality Act into law, which in the 2020 election he promised he would do within the first 100 days of his administration. Although the comprehensive LGBTQ legislation has cleared the House, it is all but dead in the Senate and has yet to come up for a vote.

Asked by a reporter about why Biden hasn't placed as much emphasis on the Equality Act as other legislative measures, such as the Build Back Better package or voting rights legislation, a senior administration official shot back that was at odds with the facts.

"The president is a strong supporter of the Equality Act and he has not wavered in that," the official said. "He continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act. You heard him renew that call during the State of the Union address ... Any assertion that he hasn't been full-throated on that is just completely at odds with the facts. The president today will reiterate the need to sign this legislation into law."

LGBTQ advocates praised the executive order.

"Especially in the midst of some of the most vicious attacks our community has ever faced, we are grateful to the president and this administration for embracing LGBTQI+ people and our families as full-fledged members of this nation who deserve equal consideration, protections, resources, and support," Imani Rupert-Gordon, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, stated. "This executive order is unprecedented in its recognition of the broad scope of issues that affect LGBTQI+ individuals from youth to old age. We are particularly grateful for the emphasis on LGBTQI+ youth and the need to ensure that they receive the love and support that all children need to thrive."

The National Black Justice Coalition said it supports the executive order.

"The president's executive order advancing LGBTQIA+ equity is a great example of governing for all of us and includes several policy proposals that the National Black Justice Coalition has supported and recommended — most recently federal government action on the slate of state attacks on Black, gay and transgender children in education and health care," stated Victoria York, deputy executive director of NBJC.

"Black LGBTQ+/SGL foster, adopted, and kinship care kids need family and institutional support that addresses the unique harms created by society's stigmatization of their combined marginalized identities. Black LGBTQ+/SGL youth and seniors continue to experience greater harm due to racism, anti-LGBTQ+ bias, sexism, ableism, and classism," York added, referring to same-gender-loving individuals. "The harms — too often stemming from family rejection — often result in greater rates of homelessness, suicide attempts and completions, and poverty for the most vulnerable members of our community. Conversion therapy is being banned across federal government-supported programs will help minimize mental health concerns for our community. However, the larger Black community will have to do more in-house to address how it shows up in our homes and in our churches."

Agencies serving LGBTQ youth also weighed in.

"This historic executive order will advance long-sought, LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices that will help save young LGBTQ lives, stated Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of the Trevor Project, which works with queer youth. "It's past time that we put an end to the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion 'therapy,' and expand access to the affirming care LGBTQ young people actually need to survive and thrive.

"It's crucial that our schools and the upcoming 988 lifeline are properly equipped with specialized suicide prevention resources for LGBTQ youth," Paley added. "And LGBTQ Americans deserve to be fully counted in federal data collection and afforded civil rights protections through the passage of the Equality Act."

Read the White House fact sheet on the executive order here.

Updated, 6/15/22: This article has been updated to include comments from the Trevor Project.

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