President Joe Biden pledged his support for transgender Americans during his address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, telling members of the community he’s standing by them at a time when they face a barrage of attacks by GOP-led state legislatures.
“I also hope Congress will get to my desk the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ Americans. To all transgender Americans watching at home – especially young people, who are so brave – I want you to know your president has your back,” Biden said during his address.
The remark was met with applause by people in attendance at Biden’s speech as well as trans advocates who say his comments are critically important for young trans people to hear during a year in which Republican-controlled legislatures around the country have been moving at a fast pace to impose restrictions on their lives.
So far this year, Alabama, South Dakota, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee have enacted bans on trans girls and women competing on sports teams that match their gender identity, with West Virginia’s Republican governor signing a similar ban hours before Biden delivered his remarks. Lawmakers in Florida also sent their Republican governor a bill containing an anti-trans sports ban on Wednesday. And earlier this month, Arkansas approved another measure that prohibits physicians in the state from providing gender-affirming treatments to trans youth.
According to data from the Human Rights Campaign, at least 117 bills have been introduced in various state legislature the current legislative session that target the transgender community, the highest number the organization has recorded since it began tracking anti-LGBTQ legislation more than 15 years ago.
“With his heartfelt words, President Biden is giving hope to transgender Americans – particularly transgender young people. He’s sending a clear message that he sees them, that he understands their struggles, and that he’s committed to making their lives better,” said Mara Keisling, the executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, in a statement to CNN.
“At a time when some state legislators are targeting trans kids and trying to ban them from playing sports or deny them life-saving health care, the President is letting children know that they have a friend and ally in the White House, and that is so incredibly important,” she added.
Rachel Crandall-Crocker, a Michigan-based transgender activist and founder of International Transgender Day of Visibility, told CNN that the remarks show “that our community is really making progress. It’s a really wonderful indicator of that.”
“I think that he’s setting a tone here and it’s a really groundbreaking tone,” she said, adding that she hopes Biden’s comments set a pattern for future presidents.
Biden made history last month when he issued the first-ever presidential proclamation of its kind in recognition of the Transgender Day of Visibility, which aims to celebrate the achievements of trans rights activists and increase awareness about ongoing challenges transgender and gender-nonconforming people face.
The President has also delivered on several key policy matters for trans Americans. Earlier this year, he nixed a Trump-era ban on most transgender Americans joining the military and an executive order he signed on his first day in office compels agencies to implement a recent Supreme Court decision prohibiting sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in the workplace in laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex.
He also helped bring a first to the community with his nomination of Dr. Rachel Levine to a key post in the Department of Health and Human Services. Levine later became the first out transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate.
And among first lady Jill Biden’s group of virtual guests for Biden’s address was 16-year-old Stella Keating, the first transgender teen to testify before the US Senate, according to the White House, advocating for the Equality Act. The act amends the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect people from being discriminated against based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
CNN’s Betsy Klein and Caroline Kelly contributed to this report.