Biden condemns ‘hysterical’ threats to LGBT+ Americans as White House pushes back on book bans

President Joe Biden has condemned the “hysterical” threats against LGBT+ communities across the US, following a historic surge in state-level legislation targeting LGBT+ people, particularly trans youth, and a rise in homophobic and transphobic rhetoric and abuse.

His remarks alongside UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on 8 June followed the announcement of a White House strategy to protect LGBT+ rights and safety, including the launch of a LGBTQI+ Community Safety Partnership with federal law enforcement agencies, and federal support for affirming mental healthcare and LGBT+ youth in foster care and LGBT+ youth experiencing homelessness.

The Biden administration also is directing the US Department of Education to address the spike in book bans and challenges to library materials that are disproportionately by and about LGBT+ people.

“Our fight is far from over, because we have some hysterical and, I would argue, prejudiced people who are engaged in all of what you see going on around the country,” the president said in remarks from the White House.

“It’s an appeal to fear and it’s an appeal that is totally, thoroughly unjustified and ugly,” he said.

The president also urged Congress to pass the Equality Act, which has languished in the US Senate after its passage, twice, in the US House of Representatives. “I’m not giving up on this,” Mr Biden added.

That landmark legislation would extend discrimination protections to LGBT+ people in federal civil rights law by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity across federally protected public accommodations and facilities, including employment, education and housing.

“It’s wrong that a person can be married in the morning in the United States and be fired in the afternoon by their employer because they’re gay,” Mr Biden said.

“It’s wrong that the violence and hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people is rising. It’s wrong that extreme officials are pushing hateful bills, targeting transgender children, terrifying families, and criminalising doctors,” he added. “These are our kids. These are our neighbours. It’s cruel. It’s callous.”

The president was set to announce the White House plan for federal LGBT+ protections at a Pride event on Thursday afternoon, but it was postponed due to air pollution from Canadian wildfires blanketing the East Coast.

Over the last several years, Republican state lawmakers have introduced hundreds of state-level bills impacting LGBT+ people, including 220 bills specifically targeting trans and nonbinary Americans and their healthcare, according to the Human Rights Campaign’s analysis. More than 75 such bills have been signed into law.

At least 19 states have enacted laws or policies banning affirming healthcare for young trans people against the guidance of health providers and major medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

LGBT+ communities also have reported increased threats of violence, discrimination and harassment, parallel to volatile rhetoric that has consumed right-wing media, social media platforms and debate among Republican elected officials, including in the halls of Congress, where House Republicans have advanced legislation mirroring the anti-LGBT+ bills dominating state capitols.

“You’re loved, you’re heard, and this administration has your back,” Mr Biden said in his remarks, addressing LGBT+ communities. “We are not relenting one single second to make sure you’re protected.”

Free expression group PEN America, which has tracked the explosion of public school book bans and book challenges in recent years, has welcomed the Biden administration’s response.

The group also is leading a federal lawsuit alongside Penguin Random House against a Florida county at the centre of dozens of challenges to books and materials discussing race, racism and LGBT+ people.

There have been at least 1,477 attempts to ban 874 individual book titles within the first half of the 2022-2023 school year, according to PEN America. The figures mark a nearly 30 per cent spike from book challenges over the previous year.

Last year, a record high of more than 1,200 attempts to remove books from schools and libraries were reported to the American Library Association.

The Biden administration’s actions “make clear that he is both treating these bans with the seriousness they deserve and recognizing that the majority of Americans do not want school boards or other elected officials misusing their positions to take books out of kids’ hands,” according to Nadine Farid Johnson, managing director of Washington and free expression programs at PEN America.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT+ civil rights group, also welcomed the White House plan but called on the administration to “double down” on its support for LGBT+ families and “work with leaders in every level of government to fight for a day when LGBTQ+ young people have the same opportunity as every other kid in this country,” according to a statement from group president Kelley Robinson.