Eden Milligan | Head Editor
February 9, 2021
President Biden signed a series of executive orders beginning on his first day in office that reversed many of Trump’s policies and began to set his own plans into action. Just like he promised in his campaign, he has already made significant progress on addressing LGBTQ+ issues. In addition to allowing transgender people in the military again (which was legal under Bush and Obama’s presidencies but not Trump’s), Biden enacted other changes that many believe are a step in the right direction for human rights.
One of the first executive orders he signed combats discrimination in education, healthcare, housing, and work. It reads, “all persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.” This order will serve to expand upon and enforce the Supreme Court decision in Bostock vs. Clayton County last year which held that the Civil Rights Act should be applied to preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender. While many people believe this order to be a step in the right direction towards promoting true equality, it has also received some criticism, particularly from church officials who feel that the order infringes on their traditions and long-standing beliefs.
Five prominent Roman Catholic bishops released a statement on Biden’s order which asserted that “the imposition of new attitudes and false theories on human sexuality” would “produce social harms.”
Senior Megan Moe believes the backlash to this important order is “ridiculous.” “The statement ‘false theories on human sexuality’ has absolutely no basis in science whatsoever, homosexuality is well documented in humans throughout history and many animal species, so sexuality is not some ‘false theory,’” she said.
Biden, though he has proudly declared that he is a “devout Catholic,” has received heavy criticism from some members of the church who believe his policies are trampling on religious liberties. However, the majority of the American public, including many religious figures, disagree. The beliefs of these few Roman Catholic bishops are not universally true for all religions and religious people, as many believe that human rights should be placed above controversial interpretations of the Bible.
“If the Catholic church believes [the order] furthers false theories on human sexuality, that doesn’t necessarily mean other religions share the same opinions,” junior Hayley Brown said. “I don’t think any particular religions can trump our United States Constitution and our right to be free from discrimination.”
For those who were subjected to or feared discrimination based on sexuality or gender orientation, this order was welcomed as a significant marker of change.
“Biden’s Executive Order is the most substantive, wide-ranging executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity ever issued by a United States president,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said. “Today, millions of Americans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their President and their government believe discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is not only intolerable but illegal.”
Another part of this order from which heated controversy arose was a segment that stated that trans children should be allowed to participate in school sports on a team that aligns with their gender. Many people fear that this will create an unfair advantage, particularly in the case of trans girls who may physically have more strength than their cisgender teammates.
“There is scientific evidence which shows that men and women have different muscle fiber characteristics, and on average, men are stronger than women…so the idea of a male identifying as a female, and competing (and biologically dominating, according to science) in athletics, I do not agree with,” Brown said. “As a female athlete, all of the training and hard work I had put into achieving a certain physical strength could easily be achieved by someone who is biologically male.”
The issue may not be as simple as the difference between male and female bodies, however. “I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I have read that hormone treatments and other medical treatments drastically change transgender people’s bodies and muscle composition,” Moe said.
Though decrease in muscle mass is a widely accepted effect of feminizing hormone therapy (estrogen shots), the degree of this muscle mass decrease is not entirely known. A peer-reviewed study by The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in 2019 found that muscle volume decreased by only 5% in the tested group of transgender women over a year. This could be problematic, as another unrelated study found that women have, on average, 33% less lower body strength and 40% less upper body strength than men. Essentially, trans women still may be stronger on typical hormone therapy. Additionally, the 2019 study found that trans men saw a muscle volume increase of 15% as well as a density increase of 6%–meaning that testosterone is more effective than estrogen in altering muscle mass, but it still will not transform a trans men to match the muscle mass of the average cisgender male. Still, the current research on this topic is extremely limited, and may not be completely accurate.
Despite potential biological advantages that make the the new executive order’s application to school sports debatable, the social equity of the situation must also be taken into account. Though female athletes may feel they are not treated fairly by an order that allows stronger individuals to compete against them, trans students also deserve fairness. “Excluding trans folks from any space is a slippery slope, and I do believe that trans individuals’ identities are valid, so I don’t see why a woman should not be able to play on a women’s team,” said Moe.
To further Biden’s support for the LGBTQ community, he released a “Memorandum on Advancing the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer, and Intersex persons around the world.” It sets a new goal for foreign policy that essentially expands the goal of promoting equality for people of all gender identities and sexual orientations not only in the US but also abroad. This memorandum is particularly powerful because it not only proposes a broad statement of support for promoting global equality, but breaks down six specific goals of the government in regulating nations around the world, which are:
- “Combating Criminalization of LGBTQI+ Status or Conduct Abroad”
- “Protecting Vulnerable LGBTQI+ Refugees and Asylum Seekers”
- “Foreign Assistance to Protect Human Rights and Advance Nondiscrimination”
- Giving “Swift and Meaningful United States Responses to Human Rights Abuses of LGBTQI+ Persons Abroad”
- “Building Coalitions of Like-Minded Nations and Engaging International Organizations in the Fight Against LGBTQI+ Discrimination”
- “Rescinding Inconsistent Policies and Reporting on Progress”
Biden’s goals for the LGBTQ+ community are ambitious to say the least. The Human Rights Watch states that there are currently about 70 countries where same sex marriage is illegal, so it seems highly unlikely that section one of the memorandum will be fully realized. Biden also hopes to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic (which largely effects the LGBTQ+ community) around the world by 2025.
Whether Biden’s new executive orders and policies are the movement of change that we need to see in the nation or a “reckless and unpresidential” overuse of executive power like Brown and many others fear is certainly debatable. However, what’s clear is that Biden’s immediate action in his first weeks of presidency signals an era of tremendous change.