Tiara Banks deserved to live. Remy Fennell deserved to live. Iris Santos deserved to live. The reported 381 Transgender people globally whose lives were cut short by anti-Queer violence within the last year deserved to live.
While my people suffer violence and repression at every turn, the Biden administration offers little but platitudes, lacking a clear plan for a path towards global safety and equality for Transgender people.
While Biden’s claims that he “[has] our back” may feel good to some, the 381 Transgender people whose lives were cut short by fatal anti-Queer violence do not have such a privilege to “feel good” at mere words.
Case in point: This year holds the record for the largest legislative attack on Transgender rights and safety in modern American history—a year when Democrats wield overwhelming power in our federal government. This Democratic power, however, has not prevented the enactment of over a hundred anti-LGBTQIA+ bills. The Democratic National Committee—the political arm of the Democratic party—has issued a broad statement of condemnation but Congress, the administration, and the Party have taken appropriate steps to curb these state laws from coming into effect. Already anti-Queer institutions, our public schools and health care facilities, have continued down a path of social and physical violence by removing LGBTQIA+ literature, banning Transgender youth from sports, and denying Transgender people lifesaving treatments. In a time where Transgender people in the United States are being used as political punching bags in the GOP’s “culture war”—leading to daily harm and the deadliest year on record for Transgender peoples, specifically Black Transgender women—Democrats must do better. They must move beyond symbolic gestures and truly engage in the necessary struggle for equality of, and safety for, Transgender people.
The Biden administration issuing an updated version of the Obama administration memorandum directing Heads of Agencies and Departments to ensure “diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons everywhere” does little, as the State Department maintains a ban on U.S. diplomats advocating for same-sex marriage. As a Transgender person, I worry about the efforts by the United States to tackle anti-trans violence, if our same-sex partnered community members can not even be guaranteed advocacy for a basic right like marriage equality.
Sadly, I am not surprised by these subpar attempts by the United States to protect the livelihoods LGBTQIA+ people. Notably, the Biden administration has continued arms sales to known human rights abusers, such as Saudi Arabia, which strengthens a violently anti-LGBTQIA+ regime allowing for the persecution of Transgender people and the prosecution of vocal LGBTQIA+ advocates and allies. Any global efforts to protect and safeguard the livelihoods of Transgender people, as well as the broader LGBTQIA+ community, should put an end to global arms sales—especially to those who’ve committed mass human rights abuses.
As our political leaders continue these endless wars, LGBTQIA+ people around the globe are left in harm's way. For those who live under governments refusing to act on a rise in anti-transgender violence, such as the United Kingdom, and to others who face systemic persecution, notably in Ghana and Hungary, the silence of the world’s most powerful nation speaks volumes. Without a public denouncement of such violence and full-fledged diplomatic pressures, Transgender people are made a last thought in the grand scheme of the United States’ foreign policy goals. These efforts, or lack thereof, by the Biden administration to address issues facing LGBTQIA+ people mirrors the Trump administration’s attempt at tackling the global criminalization of homosexuality, which, at the end of the day, was little more than a poorly funded publicity stunt.
While, yes, the Justice Department under President Biden has signed on to lawsuits against states implementing discriminatory laws, an executive order declaring that Transgender students are protected under Title IX has been released, and the President has uttered the word “transgender”—we, as Transgender people, are still in need of more to combat the everyday violence plaguing our community. An acknowledgement of both the historic and current anti-trans harm by Party officials and larger U.S. institutions is, first, necessary. Any next step taken should include the mass mobilization of Party infrastructure, governmental funds, and diplomatic efforts to end the global attempt at the systemic erasure and killing off of Transgender people—and, of course, LGBTQIA+ people at large.
While Biden’s claims that he “[has] our back” may feel good to some, the 381 Transgender people whose lives were cut short by fatal anti-Queer violence do not have such a privilege to “feel good” at mere words. Many Transgender and gender non-conforming people—myself included—can not waste a moment to “feel good,” as our lives are constantly at risk of coming to an end. With Biden’s hesitancy to boldly challenge domestic and global anti-Queer repression, I feel enraged. My people can not keep letting the Democratic Party take our votes and money while our concerns over our literal livelihoods are being ignored.
We need more than statements and symbolic gestures. We need the mass mobilization of the general public, governmental resources, and party infrastructure. Only then will my people, transgender people, be free to fully create a future where our livelihoods and well-being are valued more than the votes we provide.
(Elijah Nichols (they/them) is a George Mason University student, Digital Campaigns & Community Engagement Fellow at Win Without War, and an active organizer for LGBTQIA+ rights. This story was featured in Common Dreams.)