In 2022 alone, more than 20 states have introduced hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills, ranging from legislation to prohibit any material involving LGBTQ identity from being taught in schools, to bans on gender-affirming health care, and requirements that supportive parents of trans kids be investigated for child abuse. A surge in murders and attacks targeting trans people, and particularly trans women of color, has cast a long shadow over Pride Month celebrations this June—all while politicians spew rhetorical attacks on LGBTQ people straight from the ‘80s and ‘90s, and eye the end of legalized same-sex marriage.
On Wednesday, President Biden attempted to address this anti-LGBTQ crisis by signing a multi-pronged executive order. The order first and foremost calls on the Department of Health and Human Services to offer sample policies for states to expand access to gender-affirming health care for LGBTQ patients and the Education Department to offer similar sample state legislation to support inclusion of LGBTQ students in schools.
Biden’s executive order will also crack down on conversion therapy by directing HHS to reduce LGBTQ youth exposure to it and the State Department to promote the end of it on an international level. The order further asks the Federal Trade Commission to examine whether conversion therapy constitutes an unfair or deceptive practice, and potentially issue consumer warnings about it.
And there’s more: Biden’s order will direct more funding to suicide prevention resources, which is vital considering high rates of mental health struggles and suicide among queer and trans youth, and seek to address discrimination that LGBTQ children and parents face in the foster care system. The administration will also collect additional data about sexual orientation and gender identity among unhoused and housing insecure children and adults across the country, as LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience violence and abuse while homeless.
The executive order’s wide-ranging features comprise an important step in the right direction and address many different pieces of the oppression and escalated attacks on LGBTQ Americans. But responding to the scale of violence that LGBTQ people are facing—particularly in impacted states—with guidance feels entirely insufficient. States with liberal-leaning legislatures and governors will probably adopt the sample legislation Biden’s HHS and Education Department provide, if they don’t already have similar laws in place—but what about trans kids in Texas, like the teen who attempted suicide following a state law to prohibit gender-affirming care for minors in the state? Trans youth in Alabama, where a similar total ban on gender-affirming care for trans minors took effect last month? Or trans kids in Arizona, Kentucky, and other states who are being singled out, banned from team sports, and very publicly bullied by their own state representatives? Florida kids who aren’t allowed to be themselves in schools that were once their only safe space?
A 2021 survey from the Trevor Project found just one-third of queer youth considered their home to be LGBTQ-affirming, compared with 50 percent who considered their school to be. Ninety-eight percent said they could identify at least one school staff member who was supportive of them. LGBTQ youth and especially those of color already grapple with disproportionately high rates of suicide and mental health struggles, and face greater risk of experiencing sexual abuse, homelessness, and poverty than their straight and cis peers.
Conservative lawmakers and activists are reigniting a decades-old moral panic about the existence of LGBTQ people to score cheap political points, and queer and trans people are being targeted, harassed, and even killed as a result. Biden’s executive order acknowledges the full-throttled crisis we have on our hands, but it’s simply not enough.
Bypassing state-level legislation isn’t easy, and it’s not clear whether more aggressive executive orders or actions by the Biden administration to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in schools and the health care system could hold water in court. But the president has to try to do more than simply call on Congress to somehow pass the Equality Act with the filibuster in tact, and issue advisories and sample legislation.
The rise in legislative, cultural, and, in far too many cases, physical attacks on LGBTQ people across the country is a national emergency. It’s past time for this administration to treat it like one.