How Queer and LGBT-friendly is the Biden-Harris Cabinet?
December 4, 2012 QueerForty.com
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris are busy making history, appointing a cabinet and administration that looks like America and which will be responsive and responsible to all of us.
It’s a hashtag on Twitter: #RepresentationMatters. Nowhere has that been more evident than in appointments being made by Biden and Harris. The new administration is shaping up to be the antithesis of what Trump and his virulently homophobic Vice President Mike Pence have served to Americans for the past four years.
This is herstoric and historic stuff, like the first all-female communications team,
with nearly half women of color, including two out lesbian women of color.
Biden-Harris have also appointed the first woman Secretary of the Treasury, world-renowned economist Janet Yellen. And the first woman Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, appointed as UN Ambassador, said it best, “America is back. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back.”
Janet Yellen| Photo United States
After four years of Trump’s unilateralism, Biden has made it clear that he and Harris are partners in this new administration. He refers to her deferentially in each press conference. He states clearly that they have made these choices together, as a team. Harris isn’t being tokenized as a woman of color—she is a driving force in this administration.
Harris’s excitement at these game-changing appointments is palpable. On Dec. 1, when she and Biden rolled out their economic team, you could feel the frisson. Harris said, “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America—that reflects the very best of our nation. That is what we have done.”
Kamala Harris | Photo: harris.senate.gov
They have: 46% of the approximately 500 people on Biden’s team are people of color, while 41% of the senior staff are people of color. More than half of Biden’s senior staff (53%) and the team overall (52%) are comprised of women.
LGBTQ people are going to feel these appointments at every level. Alejandro Mayorkas is the first Latinx Director of Homeland Security. Under Trump, LGBT people applying for asylum have been deported nearly 100 percent of the time.
These deportations have been predominantly of lesbians and trans people–those most likely to face horrific violence in their countries of origin. Two trans women have also died in ICE custody at the border under suspicious circumstances. Mayorkas, himself a Cuban immigrant, said he had one word going forward in DHS: “Welcome.”
Alejandro Mayorkas | Photo: USCIS
Poverty has increased for all segments of the community, with lesbians and trans people suffering the most disparities, and people over 50 left in the most dire circumstances due to job losses and increased healthcare costs. Yellen has pledged to address economic disparities in vulnerable communities as a priority in her role at Treasury.
Hate crimes are way up under Trump, with the FBI Uniform Crime Report noting that LGBTQ people represent nearly 20% of all victims of hate crimes–utterly disproportionate to the LGBTQ demographic.
Advocacy groups note that the tone of the administration toward LGBTQ people has increased the violence. Biden-Harris have pledged to restore the Department of Justice to one that works for the people, not for the President, as it has under Trump.
Hate crimes will no longer be shrugged off but will be investigated for the civil rights abuses they are.
Biden-Harris have also pledged to overturning the ban on trans people in the military and signing the Equality Act into law. They are also committed to having LGBTQ people well represented in the administration.
Queer people have been working in the top echelon of the transition team, among them former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg as an advisor to Biden and pilot fish on Fox News, taking on the right.
Jamal Brown was national press secretary during the general election, Reggie Brown served as LGBTQ engagement director, and Olivia Raisner was traveling digital director. All are expected to be part of the new administration.
Jamal Brown | Photo: whitehouse.gov
Pete Buttigieg | Photo: southbendin.gov
Biden-Harris have appointed two lesbians of color, Karine Jean-Pierre and Pili Tobar. Jean-Pierre is the first Black person and first out lesbian to hold a chief of staff role for a vice-presidential nominee. She will be principal Deputy Press Secretary for the Biden administration. Tobar, a veteran of the immigration reform group America’s Voice, will be Deputy White House Communications Director.
Pili Tobar | Photo: buildbackbetter.gov
Karine Jean-Pierre | Photo: Twitter
Barbara Simon, head of GLAAD’s news and campaigns department, said in a statement that “including queer women of color in the history-making, all-female communications team shows a commitment to a White House where all are welcome at the table.”
Carlos Elizondo, a gay man, will be White House Social Secretary. Elizondo will oversee all aspects of official social events in the President’s official residence. Elizondo previously served for both terms of the Obama-Biden administration as Special Assistant to the President as well as Social Secretary to the Vice President and Dr. Jill Biden. Elizondo also served in both the White House and the Office of the U.S. Chief of Protocol.
Randi Weingarten, an out lesbian who is president of the American Federation of Teachers and the former president of the United Federation of Teachers, is being considered for Secretary of Education. She would replace Betsy DeVos, who has been incalculably dangerous for LGBTQ students and women college students who have experienced sexual assault on campus.
Randi Weingarten | Photo: American Federation of Teachers
These new appointees are people who will be ready on day one to begin rebuilding what Trump has broken. The choices Biden and Harris have made signal representation at every level of the new administration and a commitment to rebuilding the trust that has been broken with so many communities, including our own.
Originally published QueerForty.com December 4, 2020