So much for performative well-wishes that do nothing to improve the day-to-day lives of marginalized communities — today, the Biden administration rolls out a slate of rule changes that offer concrete improvements for transgender and non-binary Americans while pushing back on recent state-level anti-trans legislation.
March 31, 2022, marks the 13th celebration of International Transgender Day of Visibility, and the second since Joe Biden became President of the United States. In 2021, he was the first US president to issue a proclamation honoring the holiday since its inception in 2009. At the time, that was pretty big news in and of itself. But this year, the Biden administration has decided to go quite a bit farther than merely recognizing this day dedicated to raising awareness of transgender people and the ongoing discrimination and civil rights struggles we face.
This morning, the White House rolled out a slate of new policies and programs intended to “advance equality and visibility for transgender Americans,” according to a statement.
“Transgender people are some of the bravest people in our nation. But nobody should have to be brave just to be themselves,” the statement reads in part. “Today, the Biden Administration announced new actions to support the mental health of transgender children, remove barriers that transgender people face accessing critical government services, and improve the visibility of transgender people in our nation’s data.”
The policy includes a variety of important specifics, beginning with reforms that should aid transgender people in correcting identification documents and smooth some of the worst bureaucratic snafus associated with being a transgender person in the United States.
The first and most headline-grabbing of these is the fact that the US State Department will now allow all US citizens to select X as a gender marker on their United States Passport. According to a statement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, this policy will go into effect on April 11. Information about how to apply is available at travel.state.gov/gender.
Another important one is a move toward gender-neutral TSA screenings at airports. We’ve all heard the stories about transgender travelers being subjected to humiliating interrogations and delays due to full body scanners picking up an “anomaly” (oh, my bad, TSA — it’s apparently “alarm” these days) when a person’s genitalia didn’t match what the TSA screeners expected from their gender presentation.
The new updates planned to body scanners should get rid of all this. As the administration put it in their statement, “By replacing the current, gender-based system with this more accurate technology, TSA will improve the customer experience of transgender travelers who have previously been required to undergo additional screening due to alarms in sensitive areas. This new technology will help to improve the experience of travelers, particularly those who are transgender and non-binary travelers.” These new improved scanners should show up in airports by later this year. I guess then we can all find out how well it works. Still, at least they’re trying.
Other changes related to travel include gender-neutral ID verification, updating TSA PreCheck and Trusted Traveler programs to make sure they work with the X gender marker, and working with domestic air carriers to make sure they are ready and willing to work with travelers who carry the X gender marker on their passports.
Another big area of emphasis for the new Biden administration policy is support for trans kids and their families. Clearly, Joe Biden considers this an important area of concern; as he said in this year’s Presidential Proclamation of Transgender Day of Visibility, “In the past year, hundreds of anti-transgender bills in States were proposed across America, most of them targeting transgender kids. The onslaught has continued this year. These bills are wrong. Efforts to criminalize supportive medical care for transgender kids, to ban transgender children from playing sports, and to outlaw discussing LGBTQI+ people in schools undermine their humanity and corrode our Nation’s values.” And I mean… where’s the lie?
Biden’s not just calling it out, though; he’s doing something about it. In an attempt to push back on the recent removal in several states of mental health resources for LGBTQ youth from state websites, the Department Of Health and Human Services has created a new website with resources for LGBTQ youth and their families, including “best practices for affirming an LGBTQI+ child” as well as suicide prevention resources. At the same time, the Office of Safe and Supportive Schools within the US Department of Education is offering new training for school staff and officials going over challenges transgender and nonbinary students deal with, and how school personnel can best provide support.
There are a variety of other guidances and statements from various parts of the federal government, including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, all of which are intended to help confirm that gender-affirming care is the way to go where caring for trans and nonbinary youth is concerned, and to offer resources for family members, school officials and others about how best to affirm and support LGBTQ youth.
Granted, none of this will block laws being passed and decisions being made on the state and county levels, which is where the vast majority of control over public K-12 education lies in this country. However, where those state-level actions are concerned, the Biden administration also outlined a slate of actions they were taking, including having the Department of Justice file statements of interest and amicus briefs in several different lawsuits intended to fight for transgender civil rights in various states around the country.
Another very important aspect of this new slate of programs is improvements made in allowing trans and non-binary Americans access to federal services and benefits. The Social Security Administration’s draconian requirements for a trans person to prove their identity in order to get their retirement benefits are being significantly relaxed. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will now allow those filing discrimination complaints to use an X gender marker on complaints — which should make it a lot easier for people getting discriminated against over their gender identity to bring that discrimination to light. The Department of Education will be allowing applicants for FAFSA to include information about their gender identity as part of their filings starting in the 2023-24 school year, which will hopefully help the department figure out how to address discrimination trans and non-binary students face in gaining financial aid for higher education.
In the Presidential Proclamation of Transgender Day of Visibility that President Biden released today, he repeated some of the supportive things he has said about transgender people in the past. “Transgender people are some of the bravest Americans I know, and our Nation and the world are stronger, more vibrant, and more prosperous because of them,” he said. “To transgender Americans of all ages, I want you to know that you are so brave. You belong. I have your back.”
There have been times over the past year and change of the Biden presidency where some have wondered whether statements like this, as groundbreaking as they are, fall short of real support that can actually improve the day to day lives of transgender and non-binary Americans. However, with the slate of new policies rolled out today by the Biden administration, it seems that we’re seeing some real concrete action. In a year where the dialogue around transgender and non-binary Americans has mainly been fueled by backlash, discrimination, and resentment, it’s nice for our community to get some good news for once.