Biden Gets It: Trans Rights Are a Defining Civil Rights Fight

While campaigning in Florida this week Vice President Joe Biden made the bold and uncompromising statement that discrimination against transgender people is one of “the civil rights issue of our time.” He isn’t wrong.

Leaving an Obama campaign office in Sarasota, Biden began talking to one woman whose daughter is currently Miss Trans New England. The woman asked Biden if he would help the millions of trans people who face discrimination.

An unnamed press pool reporter, as quoted by Politico, described the incident:

She said something …at first inaudible to pool, to which VP responded was the “civil rights issue of our time”

Pool later asked the woman, Linda Carragher Bourne of Sarasota about the exchange. She said her daughter was Miss Trans New England and asked if he would help them.

“A lot of my friends are being killed, and they don’t have the civil rights yet. These guys are gonna make it happen,” she told the pool.

A couple of eye witnesses have since clarified to the Huffington Post that Biden’s comments would be more accurately represented by saying trans discrimination is “one of the great issues of today.”

Whatever the exact words, the aforementioned Linda Carragher Bourne has since enthused about the meeting as a chance to speak up about trans rights, saying on her Facebook:

THEN! As I was waving my arms like Kermit the Frog (WITH the Peace Sign, of course…smile…), he SAW ME! He said, TO ME(!!!) “Wow! Look at those EYES!!!” He immediately came over and gave me a HUGE BEAR HUG (pics to come, on the Late News…haha!). THEN! I got to TELL him what I had to SAY! Yup. Y’all guessed it! I spoke (babbled? I pray not…) about Civil Rights for Trans People, about the hatred, the murders, the UTTER NECESSITY to protect Our Trans Citizens! He actually had a conversation with me about “it all.” He declared his Support, his DEVOTION to Civil Rights for ALL Peoples, and specifically Transgender Folks! It was a miraculous (to me) and Magical Moment In Time. I felt ZERO Bullshite coming from him. ZERO!!! He’s in our Corner, Friends!!! And. He has Obama’s “ear!” YAYYYYYYY!!!!

You will of course remember that it was Vice President Biden who put himself on the leading edge of the drive for marriage equality by saying he supported gay marriage, seeming to encourage President Obama to, just a few days later, make clear his own support in what was a groundbreaking moment for American politics.

This, perhaps less grandiose than the last, may also go down as a quiet milestone.

To have a Vice President specifically acknowledge transgender rights as a civil rights issue sounds like it should be a given, but this administration is the first to have really given notice to trans people as a cognizable class, and even then that recognition has often been fleeting.

When it comes to trans rights there is still so much work to do.

Joblessness and homelessness among trans people is pervasive because it remains legal to fire someone for being trans despite their skills and talents, and despite the fact that being trans is a medically recognized reality; that anti-trans hatred and violence continues to escalate across America and, indeed, the world; and that trans kids are still often subjected to ignorance, bullying and institutionalized prejudice — all this speaks to why trans rights are such a pressing civil rights issue.

And then there is the new bane of voter disenfranchisement that stands to particularly affect trans rights.

Recently, I spoke with Charles Meins, of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, who at 21 changed his gender markers to reflect his gender identity as male rather than his birth assigned female status.

Charles, having taken his father’s name, would subsequently find that his change of gender markers would cause him problems when it came time to vote. Charles told me how when he reached the front of the line on voting day the problem began.

“They told me I had already voted,” he said. He told them he hadn’t, that he would have remembered.

And then he described the “plunging feeling” in his gut as he realized that the list of names for who was eligible to vote had not been updated and that the poll workers were right, Charles Meins–his father–had already cast his vote.

In the resulting confusion and attempts to sort this problem out, Charles was forced to clarify that he had recently officially changed his gender markers from female to male, therein disclosing his trans identity. The poll workers, who had previously referred to him in male terms, then began to misgender him as “Miss,” and even, loudly, corrected other poll workers who did not.

And, again, this was in Massachusetts, a state that is considered by most to be a liberal bastion, and one that does not have voter ID laws like Tennessee or Arizona where medically unnecessary gender reassignment surgery is used as a barrier to new ID documents and therein to being able to vote.

Massachusetts is of course the state Mitt Romney presided over as governor between 2003–2007, where he fought gay marriage with every trick at his disposal and set his lawyers to scrutinizing same-sex couple adoptions in unprecedented detail.

Charles, who is one of several people featured in the National Center for Transgender Equality’s Voting While Trans series, told me this piece of advice for trans people voting next week:

“Take a friend.”

He says that, should you encounter problems as he did, a friend’s place at your side might be invaluable.

While I did not inquire as to which candidate Charles would be voting for, I might also add that you should consider voting for a friend, the candidate who understands the quest for LGBT rights is not some kind of special or extra privilege but only the recognition of basic human dignity and a right to live a life unfettered by bigoted government intrusion.

Mitt Romney has made his feelings about LGBT people quite clear.

Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama have likewise left us in no doubt as to where they proudly stand.

The NCTE has prepared a handy one-page checklist for trans people who are concerned about their voting rights that is designed to make sure you are prepared come voting day. Click here for that and other resources.

Related Reading:

How Voter ID Laws Impact Transgender People

Transgender Rights Are A Feminist Issue

Oklahoma Judge: Being Transgender Is ‘Fraudulent’


Image credit: Barack Obama Photostream.


marc horton
marc horton5 years ago

thank you,that is great...

Lynn C.
Lynn C5 years ago

Joe Biden gets a lot right! How fortunate to have had him by the president's side these last four horrible years. Maybe we're given both he and the president a bit of relief with the additional Democrats newly voted in.

Lyn B.
Lyn B5 years ago

Sadly even within the LGBTQ community there are pockets of prejudice and full on hate for those of us that don't conform to even "their" ideas of what's right or wrong.
I find that for too many within the LGBTQ community rarely want to admit or discuss these issues but I believe that if we don't admit/discuss these issues, they can ultimately be used against us/divide us.

You have gay men who not just disapprove of drag or "not straight acting" or transgendered or fill in the blank, but who actively HATE those that don't conform to their idea of what a gay man should be.

Unfortunately, you have the same issues within the lesbian community. Those who aren't "lesbian enough" meaning coming across as too feminine! That if you're not more masculine that you're somehow less of a lesbian.

Then even within the drag community you will find hate/dislike for transgenders that are TOO feminine participating in drag, where it was once a safe haven for them!

Some of you have read what I've written regarding the prejudice I encounter as a bisexual woman. I won't repeat it unless someone really wants me to do so. But suffice it to say that prejudice against bisexuality runs unchecked.

I think too often that alot of the prejudice comes from self hate and self loathing.
It also stems from this need that so many have for putting LABELS ON EVERYONE!!!
I personally wish all labels would vanish.
I sincerely hope that with our gains in civil rights that this myopic thinking wil

Kamryn M.
Kay M5 years ago


Lyn B.
Lyn B5 years ago

Thank you, Mr. Vice President!!!!!!

Michael M.
Michael T5 years ago

@Nikolas writes As spiritual beings coming here to have a human experience and definitely not to threaten, intimidate or coerce others into accepting our choices. So its time get your priorities right and to fix your karma without imposing your will upon others.

I would suggest that while your idea of spiritual beings coming here to have a human experience is a worthy approach to understanding that, the human houses for them, while having this experience on the physical plane, do not necessarily have the agendas you seem to think they have. Some are so ridden with fear they do feel it is necessary to threaten, intimidate and coerce others into accepting their will.

All will have to return to pay back the karma they created in lives in which they behaved badly towards others and in those whom they abrogated choice.

Nikolas Karman
Nikolas K5 years ago

As spiritual beings coming here to have a human experience and definitely not to threaten, intimidate or coerce others into accepting our choices. So its time get your priorities right and to fix your karma without imposing your will upon others.

Max L.
Max L.5 years ago

@Robert H

It's sad to see such a transphobic man. What happened to "be yourself" or "don't be afraid to let your colours shine"?

Sorry, used to the YouTube reply system.

Max L.
Max L.5 years ago

Karen H - I'd give you a star, but I don't fit the requirements :)

Max L.
Max L.5 years ago

It's sad to see such a transphobic man. What happened to "be yourself" or "don't be afraid to let your colours shine"?