As Dr Jill Biden steps into the White House it’s clear to see she’s poles apart from her predecessor, whose legacy could be described as “uncaring” at best.
She brings to the role of First Lady an air of warmth, dignity and compassion, signalling to queer Americans that for the first time in four years, they have a genuine ally at the president’s side.
She made her support loud and clear through a campaign trail peppered with LGBT-focused events, but her relationship with the LGBT+ community goes back further than that.
And while Joe Biden may have a sketchy history when it comes to LGBT+ rights, reassuringly his wife seems to have no skeletons in her closet.
Dr Jill Biden spoke out against LGBT+ bullying in schools
Jill Biden was supporting the LGBT+ community years before her husband changed his tune on same-sex marriage.
As Second Lady in 2009, Dr Biden delivered opening remarks at the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s sixth annual Respect Awards in New York City – an appearance that marked the first time someone from the presidential or vice presidential area of the Obama-Biden administration addressed an LGBT+ organisation.
Voicing her “commitment” to safer schools for all students, including LGBT+ youths, Dr Biden recalled her first-hand experience with bullying.
“As an English teacher, I’ve read my students’ personal journals and heard their intimate conversations about their pain and their anxiety,” she said.
“How can we expect kids to learn when they are taunted by their classmates? How can we ask them to do their best work?
“Change is not easy,” she continued, “especially when it comes to ending bigotry and fear. But I am confident that together, we will succeed … Each child, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, deserves an education.”
She received a standing ovation from the audience, which included Sirdeaner Walker, the mother of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, the 11-year-old Massachusetts boy who took his life after being targeted by homophobic bullies.
‘We’ve got to make sure we keep moving forward on gay rights’
Jill Biden continued pushing for LGBT+ acceptance at the opening ceremony for PFLAG’s 2011 national convention, where she gave a speech on LGBT+ harassment in schools.
Highlighting stories of queer youths who had been bullied into suicide, the Second Lady stressed the importance of instilling a sense of self-confidence in children as they head through their teen years.
“For children who are struggling with understanding their sexual orientation or gender identity, the teen years can be particularly challenging,” she said. “And, of course, kids are not always kind to each other during these times, especially when one of them is different.”
Jody Huckaby, PFLAG’s executive director, praised Biden’s message for “connect[ing] the dots” between acceptance and support and “positive mental health and education outcomes.”
Later in 2012, Jill Biden was among the delegates of the Democratic National Convention’s LGBT Caucus.
— Noland Hoshino (@NolandHoshino) September 6, 2012
“I want you to know how much Joe and I and Barack and Michelle appreciate all that you are doing for this campaign all across this country,” she told attendees as she reaffirmed Joe Biden and Barack Obama’s support of marriage equality.
“We’ve got to make sure we keep moving forward on gay rights so that we can continue the progress we’ve made,” she said.
In 2014, as Obama was making healthcare reforms with the Affordable Care Act, Jill Biden met with members of the LGBT+ community to hear how the changes were impacting them.
Among them was a gay man who’d lost his job and been diagnosed with HIV in the same year. He told told Dr Biden that the Affordable Care Act “saved his life”.
A First Lady for the LGBT+ community
In 2017 Joe and Jill Biden launched the Biden Foundation, a charitable organisation that made LGBT+ equality a pillar of its public service work.
Together they backed many pro-LGBT+ initiatives, including “As You Are”, a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of family acceptance in the lives of LGBT+ youth.
The Biden Foundation suspended operations in 2019 when Joe Biden ran for office, but the causes it supported would inform one of the most progressive presidential campaigns America has ever seen.
From the start Jill Biden and her husband made their support for LGBT+ rights clear as they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots at the Stonewall Inn and teamed up with the Fab Five for a Queer Eye grassroots fundraiser.
She obviously intends to continue this as First Lady, and on her third day in the White House she’d already paid a visit to the Whitman-Walker Health HIV/AIDS clinic in Washington.
The fact that the president’s closest counsel should make this a priority sends a strong message about the White House’s plans for the future, showing an eye to the past and an understanding of the struggles the LGBT+ community has faced.
This, coupled with Joe Biden’s sweeping LGBT+ reforms, suggests that the First Lady is going to take a more active role in things to come – and bringing a breath of fresh air with her.
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