The day after President Joe Biden was sworn into office, #BidenErasedWomen trended on Twitter. What had the brand-new president done to women that was so horrible?
He signed an executive order to protect LGBT Americans from discrimination.
Biden signed several executive orders on his first day in office; most of them reversed Trump-era policies regarding issues such as climate change and immigration. One rolled back Trump administration guidance that discriminated against LGBT people; it also reinforced that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBT people from workplace discrimination. Title VII was the focus of the 2020 Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the Court ruled that prohibiting discrimination “because of sex” applies to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Biden’s order does not create new law; it simply implements the Bostock ruling to guarantee protections for millions of LGBT people, shielding them from discrimination in employment, credit, and housing, as well as public health care and education. In the order, Biden declared that “Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love . . . All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.”
After four years of horrific discrimination and bigotry from the Trump administration, this order is a huge step forward. In October, Biden pledged to sign the Equality Act—which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of identities protected by the Civil Rights Act—if Congress passed it. For the time being, passage is looking unlikely. But Biden signing an order on day one protecting LGBT people demonstrates that his presidency is on track to be more favorable towards the LGBT community than Trump’s.
Those on Twitter who trended #BidenErasedWomen, though, weren’t satisfied.
Both anti-LGBT conservatives and trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) criticized the protections. These conservatives, as usual, see protections for LGBT people as an attack on family values and an “assault on biological reality.” TERFs took a different path to get to the same hateful result; many claimed that the executive order protecting transgender rights erases cisgender women.
One account tweeted a quote from Germaine Greer, an Australian academic and radical feminist who once said that trans women are not women. Another user claimed that the executive order “eliminates single-sex sports” and that Biden “ruin[ed] sports for women.” Abigail Shrier, an American journalist who supports the unproven hypothesis of “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” tweeted that “A new glass ceiling was just placed over girls.”
The executive order, of course, does none of this.
By signing an order that extends civil rights protections to sexual orientation and gender identity, Biden is simply declaring that it is immoral and unacceptable to discriminate against someone because they are LGBT. He is not “erasing women.” He is not making it harder for girls and women to exist. He is recognizing the experiences of LGBT people and making it easier for them to exist in public.
Biden is stepping into office as legislatures across the country debate and pass anti-transgender laws. Bills in Alabama and Utah seek to prohibit gender-affirming medical care for trans minors. Oklahoma and North Dakota are attempting to ban transgender high school athletes from playing on the team that aligns with their gender.
Trump may be out of office, but transphobic bigotry never rests.
Oklahoma’s Save Women’s Sports Act is just one example of how transphobic lawmakers (and transphobes in general) frame their bigotry as a desire to protect women. People assigned male at birth, they argue, have “inherent physiological advantages” over people assigned female at birth. It wouldn’t be fair for cis women to have to compete against trans women, because trans women are just biogically superior.
Trans women are not inherently better at sports than cis women. As with every human being on the planet, trans athletes possess a broad range of skill. To argue that trans women have an inherent advantage over cis women because of “biology” isn’t just transphobic, it’s also offensive to the cis women who compete at the same professional and college levels as cis men and get far less recognition. Not to mention the fact that no openly transgender woman has ever qualified for the Olympics; the first openly transgender Olympian was Chris Mosier, a trans man.
Transphobia never solely affects trans people, either. Cis women with intersex characteristics are also discriminated against. In 2019, the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld a rule that would require Caster Semenya, a cis woman with naturally elevated testosterone levels, to take testosterone-lowering medication in order to compete in certain events with other women. The ruling against Semenya prompts the question of whether intersex poeple are even allowed to participate in gender-designated sports, which, in turn, prompts another: what actually determines sex?
The first answer would probably be “genitalia.” But what about trans people who have had gender-affirming surgery? They no longer have the genitalia of their sex assigned at birth. Similarly, hormone levels can be altered with hormone replacement therapy, giving transgender people many of the secondary sex characteristics that align with their gender. Does that mean that they are now “truly” the gender they identify as?
“No!” say the transphobes. “They still have the wrong chromosomes!”
Okay, so what about the myriad genetic disorders that affect sex chromosomes and sexual development? Swyer syndrome affects the Y chromosome and leads to people with XY chromosomes being anatomically “female.” People with Klinefelter syndrome are usually assigned male at birth but often have decreased testosterone production due to an extra X chromosome. Caster Semenya’s condition, 46 XY DSD, leads to increased testosterone production.
Biology—including our own—is complex, and rarely falls into neat human-created categories.
In short, the only way to truly know if anyone’s chromosomes are what they “should” be is to do genetic testing. So, if chromosomes actually do define sex, are we going to produce a karyotype for every athlete to prove they’re on the “right” team?
Transphobes never bring trans men into their arguments because it doesn’t fit their narrative. They focus solely on discriminating against trans women because it is easier to paint trans women as “predators” or “men in dresses” who want to take advantage of girls. But if they truly want to “save women’s sports,” then they would also need to focus on the other side of the issue: trans men being forced to participate on women’s teams.
Mack Beggs, a high school wrestler, made headlines for winning the state championship two years in a row. Because of Texas law, Beggs, a trans man, was required to compete against girls, despite his wishes to compete in the boys’ division. But transphobes don’t care about that because it unravels their argument. If a woman (cis or trans) with increased testosterone has a “biological advantage” over other women, and if those other women need “protection” from unfair competition, why is Beggs, who is on testosterone, required to compete against women?
The answer is that transphobes don’t care about protecting women. Their primary goal is to discriminate against trans people, especially trans women.
State legislatures and other transphobes will continue to discriminate against LGBT people for the sake of “protecting values” or “saving women.” With a 6–3 conservative Supreme Court majority entrenched for the foreseeable future, LGBT rights in the US may be vulnerable.
Biden’s executive order is an essential step that sparks optimism among LGBT activists. But it’s just one step, and we need much more to truly protect all LGBT people from discrimination.
Trans people are not a danger to society. Trans people are not predators, or trying to infiltrate women’s locker rooms, or joining sports leagues to unfairly dominate the competition. Trans people are just trying to exist.
The Bostock ruling declared that protections against sex discrimination extend to sexual orientation and gender identity, because it’s impossible to judge someone’s sexuality or gender without taking their sex into account. Bostock and Biden’s executive order provide safety for millions of LGBT people, but they also guarantee protections for cisgender and heterosexual people who don’t fit into their boss’s or landlord’s idea of what a “man” or “woman” should look like. Protection for LGBT people is protection for everyone, and the sooner people realize that, the better off we’ll all be.
Since TERFs first started #BidenErasedWomen, messages of support from trans people and allies have flooded the hashtag, a sign that despite the hatred and bigotry present, there will always be people willing to stand up for LGBT rights.
The Biden administration is already much better for LGBT people than the Trump administration ever was. But executive orders alone cannot solve all of the issues that LGBT Americans face. It will take cooperation among federal, state, and local governments—as well as schools and workplaces—to guarantee protection for all LGBT people in every area of life.