Ettinger: Biden Provides LGBTQ Protections on Day One

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks to the media after receiving a briefing from the transition COVID-19 advisory board on November 09, 2020 at the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware. Mr. Biden spoke about how his administration would respond to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Eve Ettinger

January 23, 2021

Discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation is now illegal in Virginia under Joe Biden.

ROANOKE-On his first day in office, Pres. Biden signed an executive order protecting LGBTQ individuals from “discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.” This order builds off of the SCOTUS ruling last year which argued that gay and transgender employees are protected from discrimination on the basis of sex, effectively expanding the protections assured by that ruling in more clear ways, and including healthcare, education, and sports among the realms deemed to be under these protections. 

This resulted in a massive backlash yesterday as the self-proclaimed “gender critical” conservatives started the hashtag #BidenErasesWomen and made it among the top trending topics on Twitter. To understand why this is happening in an adequate level of detail would require a long detour into the seedy, weedy recent history of transphobic British “feminists” (among whose ranks are J.K. Rowling, effectively ending her status as a darling of the queer community) posturing themselves to be invested in protecting children and gatekeeping the “endangered” lesbian community. 

The Short Version

The short version is, essentially, that these people believe two things (although they seem to enjoy changing the terms of the debate as they go, so who knows how long this will be accurate). First, they assume that trans women are not only Not Women, but they are actually predators who are so obsessed with creeping on women that they will fundamentally and permanently change their physical bodies to better do so, and, second, they argue that hormone blockers for trans children will cause irreparable damage to their bodies and that they have no ability to consent to such a thing, as minors (which overlooks the alternative reality, that trans children are facing a permanent bodily change without or even directly counter to their consent through their existing, naturally occurring hormonal processes). 

These are the beliefs that are behind the trending hashtag #BidenErasesWomen yesterday. The executive order essentially ensures that transgender atheletes can play on the sports team that aligns with their gender identity and that all trans people use bathrooms that match their gender identity. These TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, though what exactly about excluding trans women from feminism is radical remains unclear to me) argue that these protections for transgender people are oppressive to and dangerous for cis women. They falsely believe such policies put cis women in danger of assault in public bathrooms, and that cis women atheletes will be unable to compete fairly with trans women on the field. 

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Not Supported By Data

The data just doesn’t support these conclusions, however. Taking estrogen radically reduces muscle mass and testosterone blockers effectively eliminate any physical advantage that trans women might be assumed to have as athletes. My trans women friends make the same jokes about being unable to open jars as my cis women friends–whatever perceived physical advantage they might appear to have from the outside is utterly undone by the hormonal changes that occur with HRT. And in terms of the sexual assault claims, trans women are far more likely to be the victims of violent assault than cis women. 

The outrage yesterday, and in general, against expanding protections for transgender people is based in nothing more than ignorance and prejudice. Cis women seem to think that they hold the lion’s share of gender-based oppression and validating the existence of trans women and their experiences is a threat to this identity. To be told that your suffering might not be as severe as that of someone else is not a dismissal of your suffering or an attempt to reduce its impact on or significance in your life, but cis women seem to have a hard time accepting this as a fact. Just because someone else suffered in a similar way to you doesn’t mean that your suffering isn’t just as real–but it does mean that theirs requires the same kind of respect and consideration that you want for yourself. 

I’m delighted to see protections for the LGBTQ+ community expanded under Pres. Biden, and I hope to see more curiosity and compassion for trans people among American feminists as being trans in public is better protected under the law and basic, humane accommodations for transgender people are made more visible and common. Biden isn’t erasing women, he’s affirming trans women’s right to participate in the sisterhood of women publicly. As my friends say, sisters before cis-ters–let’s remember that protections for the most vulnerable among us mean better protections for the rest of us. 

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