Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is the first major-party nominee in the United States to speak about violence against transgender women of color in a public forum. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is the first major-party nominee in the United States to speak about violence against transgender women of color in a public forum. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Echoing one of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s primary campaign themes, Biden declared that he would “flat out” change the harmful executive orders President Trump has used to target transgender Americans.

For the first time in the United States a major political party’s presidential nominee addressed the violent epidemic of trans women of color being murdered in the United States.

On Thursday evening, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden answered a question from the mother of an 8-year-old transgender girl. The mother asked Biden what he would do to protect and preserve the “lives and rights of LGBTQ” people after citing several of President Donald Trump’s anti-transgender policies. 

“I will flat out just change the law, eliminate those executive orders. There should be zero discrimination, ” Biden said, before acknowledging the disproportionate discrimination and violence trans women of color face in the United States.

“What’s happening is too many transgender women of color are being murdered,” Biden added. “They’re being murdered […] So I promise you there is no reason to suggest that there should be any right denied your daughter or daughters, whichever one or two.”

Violence Against Transgender Americans Is an Epidemic

The Human Rights Campaign reported that at least 33 transgender or gender-nonconforming people were killed in the US this year. At least 28 of them were people of color. 

Although former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did address the murders of trans women of color during the election while she ran as the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, she did so in a closed-door meeting with Black Lives Matter activists. Biden is the first presidential nominee to bring the violent epidemic against transgender people onto the national stage, and so far, he is the only candidate in this general election to answer a question regarding transgender rights.

Biden’s statements echo the campaign themes of Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro, who both ran as Democratic candidates in the 2020 presidential primaries. In September 2019, both candidates slammed Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson. Carson made insensitive remarks about trans women seeking assistance in women’s homeless shelters and said that single-sex shelters should be allowed to ban transgender people.

Castro, who was HUD Secretary under the Obama administration, condemned Carson on Twitter while acknowledging the disproportionate violence transwomen endure.

“19 Black trans women have been killed this year because comments like Ben Carson’s normalize violence against them,” Castro tweeted. “As HUD Secretary, I protected trans people. I didn’t denigrate them.”

Warren chimed in too. “Trans women who experience homelessness are already disproportionately more likely to face violence.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also tweeted. “If Secretary Carson is not willing to do his job and protect all Americans experiencing housing insecurity, then he shouldn’t have his job.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren Made Standing Up for Transgender Americans a Cornerstone of Her Campaign—Biden Now Has, Too

The Senator from Massachusetts also addressed anti-transgender violence as a speaker at the LGBTQ Presidential Forum that year. When asked by the forum’s moderator what, if elected, she would do in her first 100 days in office to protect LGBTQ people, she showed them her answer

“I’m not going to tell you—I’m going to show you,” Warren said, before pulling out a small piece of pink paper.

She proceeded to carefully read the names of the trans women known to have been killed at that point in September 2019: Dana Martin, Jazzaline Ware, Ashanti Carmon, Claire Legato, Muhlaysia Booker, Michelle ‘Tamika’ Washington, Paris Cameron, Chanel Lindsey, Chanel Scurlock, Zoe Spears, Brooklyn Lindsey, Denali, Berries Stuckey, Kiki Fantroy, Pebbles LaDime ‘Dime’ Doe, Tracy Single, Bailey Reeves, Bee Love Slater, and Ja’leyah-Jamar.

“It is time for a president of the United States of America to say their names,” Warren added.

Since he assumed office, President Trump has been dubbed by LGBTQ advocates as the leader of “the Discrimination Administration.” Throughout his term, his administration erased transgender civil rights protections in health care, banned transgender people from serving in the military, scaled-back protections for transgender people in prisons, challenged the rights and acknowledgment of transgender people under federal employment laws, and withdrew protections for transgender kids in school. He has also pledged to cut funding to schools that allow transgender girls to participate in athletic programs. 

If elected, Biden aims to reverse every single anti-transgender law implemented by the Trump administration. Biden’s comments at Thursday’s town hall received praise from several transgender advocacy groups, organizations, and prominent figures.

‘I Was Really Elated’: Transgender Activists Share Why Biden’s Town Hall Moment Was Historic

Serena Daniari, a trans woman of color writer and activist, said she was elated that the discussion of transgender rights was even brought up in the town hall. 

“I was really elated, to be honest, because the subject of trans issues and transgender violence hasn’t really been brought up at all,” Daniari told COURIER.

She added that the issue was not discussed much—if at all—during the presidential primary debates and that tweets alone are not enough. Daniari also said most of the primary candidates lacked “thoughtful, actionable plans” to end anti-transgender violence, but hopes Biden will change that.

Mara Kiesling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) Action Fund, said that it’s clear that Biden truly cares about the rights of transgender people. 

“I’ve met Joe Biden, and I’ve talked to Joe Biden multiple times. The real thing you saw last night is that Joe Biden cares about people,” Kieling told COURIER. “I think everybody knows Donald Trump doesn’t care about people—or any people. Joe Biden cares about people who are down, and Donald doesn’t. Whether people are supportive of trans people isn’t—for most voters—a significant thing. What is significant is it indicates that Joe Biden cares about marginalized people.”

The NCTE Action Fund endorsed Biden earlier this year and worked with his campaign on drafting policies aimed at reducing violence against trans women.

“We worked with Joe Biden’s office to pass a trans-inclusive Violence Against Women Act because he understood years ago that there was a lot of violence against trans women—particularly trans women of color—and it needed to stop,” Kiesling added. “He has been a champion of that for longer than this election. He has been a trans- and marginalized-people supporter for years.”

Emilio Vicente, the advocacy and communications director of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, said he was glad to hear a major presidential candidate mention the epidemic of violence against transwomen of color, but he wished he had heard more. 

“This brings the conversation to a broader audience than just those of us who work in the LGBTQ [community],” Vicente told COURIER. “It’s great he mentioned how many women have died, trans people, especially trans black women have died over this year, but there’s a lot to do. And we were hoping that he would have given more specific answers on how to address that. And given the reality of the two candidates, it’s great to know that at least one of them is willing to do something about this.”

Advocates Say Work Still Needs to Be Done About Violence Against Transgender Women of Color

But what exactly can be done to end the trend of violence against trans women of color? Vicente mentioned some ideas. 

“The immediate way to protect trans people from dying is criminalizing any type of policies that actively target trans women or trans people in general,” he added. “Trans people, in general, are more likely to be homeless and more likely to have less income than most people, which are two very important things that make trans people less safe.”

Vicente said that when we’re talking about solutions for transgender safety, we need to talk about the type of resources transgender people have since it affects what they can do. Some of these things include ensuring that there are national protections at the federal level regarding work protections and safe housing. He also said that the potential nomination of Amy Coney Barrett—who would most likely vote against LGBTQ people’s interests—which is something he is concerned about.

Although Vicente believes more work needs to be done, he’s comforted that Biden is willing to publicly say he will work to reverse any of Trump’s executive orders that marginalize transgender people.

“That is what we hope to hear from any candidate who is serious and who especially running for president—that they are willing to take away any executive orders that prevent trans people from accessing resources that cisgender people can access without issue,” Vicente added, noting that healthcare protections are another vital issue for the transgender community. 

Daniari shares the same sentiments: “I also think when discussing trans issues, he and other candidates—or whoever’s elected president—need to not only discuss trans issues as this isolated subsection of policy, but talk about how trans issues intersect with all other things like the environment, education, healthcare, and all other things as well, because they do. Transgender Americans are looking for that.”

But for what it’s worth, she—as a transgender woman of color—is simply glad that a potential US president is willing to finally consider her right to exist and live as an issue of the utmost importance.

“I think the more it can be discussed amongst other questions of importance, the more we can solidify trans issues as one of the most pressing issues of our time—the most pressing civil rights issue of our time,” Daniari added. “So good on NBC, good on the mom who asked the question, and good on Biden for tackling it.”