A Queer Student’s Response to Biden’s State of the Union Address
By Megan Graham
When President Biden spoke to the nation last Tuesday, a group of Democrats’ most ardent supporters only got two lines in the 26-page speech. The State of the Union, a yearly address by the President to Congress, the Supreme Court, and the American people, is simultaneously a much-anticipated prime time event and a lengthy laundry-list of policy priorities. When there is so much to discuss in a relatively limited amount of time, plenty of groups feel snubbed by the president’s lack of focus on their issues. The fact that President Biden mentioned the Equality Act and allowing “transgender young people [to] live with safety and dignity” is a big step forward. Still, I wish my president had paid me and everyone else in the LGBTQ+ community a little more attention. In a time when the LGBTQ+ community, especially trans people, are under siege from right-wing groups that want to take away our right to live as our full, authentic selves, we need the people in power who we dutifully support to have our backs.
President Biden’s speech focused on unifying issues such as jobs and infrastructure, and he rightfully listed the Respect for Marriage Act, the law that enshrined same-sex and interracial marriage, as bipartisan priorities. But by pushing LGBTQ+ priorities into the corner, President Biden missed the chance to argue that bills like the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, gender identity, and sexuality, should be bipartisan, too. When we are excluded from unity speeches, LGBTQ+ young people get the message that our existence is divisive.
And when people like President Biden ignore us, we’re left unprotected against attacks. Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders used her State of the Union Response, a speech delivered by the party out of power to fire back at the President’s speech, to target our rights. Her speech was a tirade against “a woke mob that can’t even tell you what a woman is,” opportunities to learn about Black and LGBTQ+ history (what she termed “indoctrination”), and even the gender-neutral term “Latinx.”
All of these are coded attacks on groups that politicians like her seek to further marginalize, including queer and trans young people. People like Sarah Huckabee Sanders make the world harder for queer and trans youth — Joe Biden should use his famous empathy to call out this rhetoric for the dangerous hate that it is.
Perhaps President Biden’s greatest strength is his incredible compassion. During the 2020 Democratic National Convention, he showcased a young boy with a stutter, whom Biden helped by sharing his practices to overcome his own stutter. There are countless stories of President Biden using his capacity for empathy to help people who are struggling. That empathy was on display last Tuesday, when President Biden engaged with a young man who helped stop a gunman in Monterey Park and the family of Tyré Nichols.
Both of those interactions deserved a place in the speech. But the way that Biden shows us our shared humanity could also be extended to the LGBTQ community. How many people could have learned from the stories of the young people protesting against hateful legislation in Oklahoma, or students who would be affected by Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill?
It wasn’t all that long ago that marriage equality was a divisive issue even among Democrats. In fact, President Biden helped change the Obama administration’s anti-gay marriage stance. Ten years later, bills like the Respect for Marriage Act have bipartisan support because people like President Biden stood up and showed us that gay people’s ability to love each other should not be up for debate.
At a time when our rights are the subject of constant “culture war” attacks, that appeal to our shared humanity might change some minds and make our issues winning ones. At the very least, it would show young members of the LGBTQ+ community that the president has our back.
About the Author
Megan grew up in the suburbs of Massachusetts, where she came out as queer before arriving at college. She is currently in her last year of her degree program, where she studies history and literature. She loves running, reading, and The L Word.