Members of the LGBTQ community at the University of Georgia watched the 2020 general election with particular anticipation for the presidential race result. They continued to watch until the result was announced four days after Election Day.
“The waiting was awful,” said Autumn Sanford, a nonbinary lesbian and junior journalism major from Peachtree City. “I checked The New York Times election map constantly, and I was trying to do the math to see which states Biden would need to win and which ones he could afford to lose.”
Tension in the LGBTQ community rose after the Supreme Court lost its liberal majority with the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September. Weeks later, Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas reiterated their dissent to the Obergfell v. Hodges case, which granted the right for nationwide same-sex marriage in 2015.
A conservative Supreme Court majority with the potential to reverse the ruling made many fearful. But for some, the Biden-Harris win Nov. 7 came as a bit of relief.
“When I found out I was just in a state of shock and disbelief. … Maybe things for the LGBT community aren’t as hopeless as we’d feared they would be,” said Caroline May, a sophomore art major from Monroe who is bisexual.
However, the Democratic nominees are not without criticism on LGBTQ issues.
An official statement from the Pride Alliance at UGA supports the upcoming administration but questions their ultimate commitment to the community. The organization expects that some of the Biden-Harris platform will end up performative.
“The Biden/Harris platform provides the bare minimum towards the LGBTQ+ community and barely deserves to be titled an ‘ally’ due to their want to uphold America’s heavily policed and militarized values,” reads part of the statement.
Biden’s pro-LGBTQ platform includes preventing violence against the transgender community and trans women of color, expanding access to LGBTQ healthcare and collecting necessary data to support these communities.
Though Biden and Harris ran on a pro-LGBTQ platform for the presidential race, the two politicians historically have not supported LGBTQ people in legislation and other political decisions.
In 1996, Biden voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, preventing the federal recognition of same-sex marriages and widely considered a major setback on the issue. He has also previously voted to cut funding from schools that encouraged homosexuality and in 1973 said that gay people in the military were “security risks.”
Biden also voted in favor of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which removed almost 15,000 gay people from the military, but he takes credit for helping repeal it when he served as vice president.
More recently, Biden’s stances toward the community have changed. In 2009, Biden championed The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, where Shepard was a victim of a defense used by people who enact crimes against LGBTQ people, called “gay panic.”
In 2012, Biden also called trans discrimination “the civil rights issue of our time.”
May hopes that the president-elect, who has become more accepting of the LGBTQ community, may actually reverse the ban on transgender people in the military that Trump proposed in 2017 and implemented in 2019.
Harris has had a better run with same-sex marriage, with the earliest on-record support for the issue, and having previously officiated gay marriages.
The vice president-elect also created an LGBTQ Hate Crimes Unit while serving as a district attorney in San Francisco and challenged “panic defense” as California’s attorney general.
However, Harris’s treatment of trans inmates has ushered criticism. In 2015, Harris blocked gender-affirming treatment of an incarcerated trans woman, though she has since taken responsibility for it.
“As a nonbinary person who has a lot of trans friends, I’m not the biggest fan of Biden and Harris, especially with Kamala’s history of putting transgender inmates in the wrong prisons and denying them gender-affirming healthcare,” Sanford said.
Harris’s home state of California did not start housing trans inmates by their gender identity until earlier this year.
Harris has also been criticized by the LGBTQ community for her lack of support for decriminalizing sex work and supporting FOSTA/SESTA, a set of bills passed to combat sex-trafficking by targeting websites like Backpage and Craigslist. Some groups have argued that these sites can provide sex workers with safe mechanisms to find work.
Many LGBTQ people turn to sex work due to unstable home environments or workplace discrimination, leading to a lack of employment opportunities.
Though COVID-19 is at the forefront of everyone’s concerns, LGBTQ people hope that Biden and Harris will follow through with their promises to protect and care for their community in their upcoming administration.
“I’ve seen a lot of people talking about holding Biden’s feet to the fire and continuing to protest for the changes we want to see, and it’s certainly my intention to do so,” Sanford said.