LGBTQ Agenda: Biden comes in clutch at election year State of the Union

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Friday March 8, 2024
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President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union address March 7. Photo: Screengrab
President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union address March 7. Photo: Screengrab

President Joe Biden's overarching message, as he made his case for a second term before the United States Congress on March 7, is that "the free world is at risk" both at home and abroad.

The speech couldn't have come at a more crucial time for the president, who is on the way to obtaining enough delegates to become the Democratic Party's presidential nominee again at this summer's convention. His predecessor, Donald J. Trump, may have enough delegates to win the Republican Party's nomination as soon as next week, setting up the first presidential rematch since 1956.

According to a national CBS News poll February 28-March 1, Trump is ahead of Biden, 52%-48%.

In a vigorous speech, Biden addressed his age. He is already the oldest sitting U.S. president, at 81, and strong majorities in polls have said they feel he is too old for the job (86% according to a February ABC News poll).

"I know I may not look like it, but I've been around a while. And when you get to my age certain things become clearer than ever before," he said. "Hate, anger, revenge, retribution are among the oldest of ideas, but you can't lead America with ancient ideas that only take us back. To lead America, the land of possibilities, you need a vision for the future of what America can and should be."

Biden mentioned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and attacks on abortion rights and in vitro fertilization as examples of freedom being "under attack at home and overseas at the very same time."

Biden also gave a shout out to Congress to pass the Equality Act, and condemned school districts and other officials that want to ban books. The Equality Act would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"Banning books. It's wrong," Biden said. "Instead of erasing history, let's make history. I want to protect fundamental rights. Pass the Equality Act, and my message to transgender Americans: I have your back."

The Equality Act would probably be dead on arrival in the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana), who once equated LGBTQs to pedophiles, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

Ahead of the president's speech, the national Human Rights Campaign had urged Biden March 6 to advocate for four rule changes that would advance LGBTQ rights at the federal level. Those were clarifying and strengthening non-discrimination protections for gender identity and sexual orientation under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act; making clear that non-discrimination protections under Title IX include sexual orientation and gender identity in federally funded educational settings; spelling out the application of non-discrimination protections under Title IX with respect to school athletics; and requiring that Veterans Affairs hospitals cover and provide gender-affirming health care for transgender veterans.

Biden did not mention these in his address.

"LGBTQ+ people are powerful and resilient, but from access to health care to sports participation to classroom discrimination, members of the community, especially transgender people, are under attack," stated Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson in a news release. "The Biden-Harris administration can still do a great deal to stem that flood of hate and discrimination, and in the process make life measurably better for our community."

Biden says it's time to 'wake up'

Biden began his remarks saying that now is the time to "wake up Congress and alert the American people this is no ordinary moment."

Congressional Republicans have stymied efforts to provide Ukraine relief in exchange for a deal on the U.S.-Mexico border. Biden characterized those opposed as wanting to "walk away from our world leadership."

That includes Trump, who the president did not mention by name, only by the circumlocution of calling him his predecessor. Biden excoriated those who walked away from the deal.

"My team began serious negotiations with a bipartisan group of senators. The result was a bipartisan bill with the toughest set of border security reforms we've ever seen in this country. That bipartisan deal would hire 1,500 more border security agents and officers. One hundred more immigration judges to help tackle a backload of 2 million cases. Four thousand, six hundred more asylum officers and new policies so they can resolve cases in six months instead of six years. One hundred more high-tech drug detection machines to significantly increase the ability to screen and stop vehicles from smuggling fentanyl into America," Biden said.

"Look at the facts. I know you know how to read. ... I'm told my predecessor called Republicans in Congress and demanded they block the bill. He feels it would be a political win for me and a political loser for him," Biden said.

"Now, my predecessor, a former Republican president, tells [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, 'Do whatever the hell you want,'" Biden had said earlier. "A former American president actually said that, bowing down to a Russian leader. It's outrageous. It's dangerous. It's unacceptable."

Then Biden turned to January 6, when Trump supporters attacked the Capitol while Congress was certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election, which Trump falsely alleged had been rigged. The riot led to nine deaths, 20 hospitalizations, and federal criminal charges for thousands, including Trump himself, whose case is pending.

"January 6 and the lies about the 2020 election, and the plots to steal the election, posed the gravest threat to our democracy since the Civil War, but they failed. America stood strong and democracy prevailed. But we must be honest: the threat remains and democracy must be defended. My predecessor and some of you here seek to bury the truth of January 6. I will not do that," Biden said. "This is a moment to speak the truth and bury the lies. And here's the simplest truth: you can't love your country only when you win."

Biden attacked proposals to ban abortion on the federal level after its status as a constitutional right was revoked by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022.

"Many of you in this chamber and my predecessor are promising to pass a national ban on reproductive freedom. My God, what freedoms will you take away next?" Biden said. "In its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court majority wrote, 'Women are not without — electoral or political power.' You're about to realize how much."

Biden touts progress since 2020

Biden made the case that voters are better off than they were four years ago.

"Remember the fear. Record job losses. Remember the spike in crime. And the murder rate," Biden said. "A raging virus that would take more than 1 million American lives and leave millions of loved ones behind. A mental health crisis of isolation and loneliness. A president, my predecessor, who failed the most basic duty. Any president owes the American people the duty to care. That is unforgivable. I came to office determined to get us through one of the toughest periods in our nation's history, and we have. It doesn't make the news, but in thousands of cities and towns the American people are writing the greatest comeback story never told."

Biden touted declines in inflation and unemployment, and increases in wages.

"Instead of importing foreign products and exporting American jobs, we're exporting American products and creating American jobs — right here in America where they belong," Biden said. "And the American people are beginning to feel it. Consumer studies show consumer confidence is soaring."

Biden also addressed housing costs.

"My administration is also eliminating title insurance fees for federally-backed mortgages. When you refinance your home this can save you $1,000 or more. For millions of renters, we're cracking down on big landlords who break antitrust laws by price-fixing and driving up rents," Biden said. "I've cut red tape so more builders can get federal financing, which is already helping build a record 1.7 million housing units nationwide. Now pass my plan to build and renovate two million affordable homes and bring those rents down."

Biden also addressed quality of life issues and public safety, which like housing are salient issues in the Bay Area.

"The year before I took office, murders went up 30% nationwide: the biggest increase in history," Biden said. "Now, through my American Rescue Plan, which every Republican voted against, I've made the largest investment in public safety ever. Last year, the murder rate saw the sharpest decrease in history, and violent crime fell to one of the lowest levels in more than 50 years. But we have more to do: Help cities and towns invest in more community police officers, more mental health workers, and more community violence intervention. Give communities the tools to crack down on gun crime, retail crime, and carjacking."

He then attacked Republicans for opposing gun control legislation. Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in 2022, the first federal gun control legislation since 1994.

"My predecessor told the [National Rifle Association] he's proud he did nothing on guns when he was president," Biden said. "After another school shooting in Iowa he said we should just 'get over it.' I say 'stop it.'"

He also alleged "Republicans will cut Social Security and give more tax cuts to the wealthy." In one of many examples of him engaging with a chorus of boo's from GOP members, he asked if that was no longer true and said it was good to hear it wasn't.

"You don't want to do another $2 trillion tax cut?" he asked mockingly.

'Working nonstop' for Gaza ceasefire

Biden announced humanitarian aid measures in the Gaza Strip.

His administration has faced severe criticism for its policies toward Israel in recent months. On October 7, Hamas terrorists went into Israel and killed 1,200 people in the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. Israel responded with an extensive bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip, governed by Hamas, and a ground invasion, which has led to the deaths of over 30,000 Palestinians, according to reports. The U.S. provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel annually and Biden asked Congress for more last year.

"We've been working nonstop to establish an immediate ceasefire that would last for at least six weeks," Biden said. "It would get the hostages home, ease the intolerable humanitarian crisis, and build toward something more enduring. ... Tonight, I'm directing the U.S. military to lead an emergency mission to establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean on the coast of Gaza that can receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine, and temporary shelters. No U.S. boots will be on the ground."

Biden urged a competitive relationship with the People's Republic of China over an adversarial one.

"We're in a stronger position to win the competition for the 21st Century against China or anyone else for that matter," he said. "We're ... standing up for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."

Gay vet among attendees

According to CBS News, in attendance at the speech was gay former Congressmember George Santos (R-New York), who was expelled by his colleagues last year amid scandal, and Riley Gaines, a former University of Kentucky swimmer and an advocate for separating collegiate sports by sex assigned at birth.

Gay Congressmember Mark Takano (D-Riverside) invited Juan Carlos Lopez-Mendoza, another gay man who was finally able to access veteran benefits through the Honoring our PACT Act of 2022, as his guest.

"I am honored to be at the U.S. Capitol with my husband today," Lopez-Mendoza stated in a news release. "I am one of the many veterans who have seen their benefits increase because of the landmark PACT Act that was authored by Congressman Mark Takano and was signed into law by President Joe Biden. I am excited to hear from the President about his accomplishments and vision for our nation — and know he will keep putting country ahead of politics."

Added Takano: "That is who our president is and exemplifies what Democrats will do for veterans. We will deliver for veterans any way we can."

Senator Alex Padilla (D-California) was pleased with the speech.

"Democracy under attack," Padilla stated in a news release. "America must deliver critical aid to our allies and stand strong against Russia and China. I also applaud the actions announced by the Biden administration to expedite the entry of urgently needed aid into Gaza.

So too was Black lesbian Senator Laphonza Butler (D-California).

"The president's State of the Union speech was a powerful reminder that government can be a force for good," Butler stated. "Over the last three years, President Biden has been a defender of our freedoms, a champion of our democracy, and an advocate for our progress. He has done the hard work, securing victories that have led to historic job creation and record low unemployment.

"Americans in cities and towns across the country — including those in California — are better off today than the day he took office. I am proud to partner with an Administration that doesn't shy away from taking on our most pressing challenges, and faces our future with urgency and resolve," Butler added.

Congressmember Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), who lost her bid to replace Butler in the Senate this week, stated, "The contrast and competing visions for America's future couldn't be more clear. While the GOP wants to turn back the clock on our human rights, turn away immigrants, and turn their backs on working class families, President Biden's vision for America is one of progress, possibilities, and resilience."

Lee called the Gaza aid a "step in the right direction."

"I'm pleased President Biden underscored the dire need to secure a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine," she stated. "However, as I've said several times, in order to reach that goal the U.S. must call for an immediate and lasting ceasefire. Each day that Palestinians continue to suffer from famine, violence, and displacement is a tragedy. President Biden's plan to construct a port for large-scale aid flow is a vital step in the right direction to ending this dire humanitarian catastrophe, but we cannot stop here. The release of hostages is imperative. The lasting peace and security of the Israelis and Palestinians depends on a ceasefire and a hostage deal now."

GOP response: American dream now a 'nightmare'

Senator Katie Britt (R-Alabama) delivered the Republican response. Britt said, "Our commander in chief is not in command" and called him a "dithering and diminished leader."

"What we saw was the performance of a permanent politician who has actually been in office longer than I've been alive," Britt, 42, said. "President Biden just doesn't get it. ... I just wish he understood what real families are facing around kitchen tables."

Britt said it's around kitchen tables that families have tough conversations, and "tonight, the American family needs to have a tough conversation, because the truth is, we're all worried about the future of our nation."

"The American dream has turned into a nightmare for so many families," Britt said. "The American people are scraping by while the president proudly proclaims Bidenomics is working. Bless his heart — we know better."

Britt blamed Biden for the ongoing migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

She discussed the case of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student who was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant in Georgia. Biden gave his condolences to her parents during his speech.

"She was brutally murdered by one of the millions of illegal border crossers President Biden chose to release into our homeland," Britt said. "Tonight, President Biden finally said her name, but he refused to take responsibility for his own actions.

"America deserves leaders who recognize that secure borders, stable prices, safe streets, and a strong defense are the cornerstones of a great nation," Britt continued. "I know you're probably disgusted by most of what you see going on in Washington. And I'll be really honest with you — you're not wrong for feeling that way."

The California Republican Party issued this response: "The State of the Union is weaker today thanks to the failed leadership of President Joe Biden, and tonight, Biden doubled down on the same radical policies that have launched our nation down the wrong track. The American people are struggling under the weight of Bidenflation.

"Millions of illegal crossings through our open southern border have turned every state into a border state," the statement continued. "Disastrous foreign policy has weakened our nation on the world stage. Our communities are less safe as crime continues to run rampant. Our children are struggling in failing schools. When even in deep blue California, a majority of voters disapprove of Biden's job performance, he's in trouble. This November, the American people will finally retire Joe Biden and his disastrous record once and for all."

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

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