Democratic White House hopeful Pete Buttigieg on Thursday unveiled a sweeping plan to overturn institutionalized discrimination against the LGBTQ community through legal protections, affordable health care and ending President Donald Trump’s transgender military ban.
Buttigieg’s policy rollout, titled “Becoming Whole: A New Era for LGBTQ+ Americans,” proposes nearly two dozen initiatives aimed at tackling inequality of marginalized groups from the classroom to the workplace.
Its prime objectives include securing passage of the Equality Act, which would remedy the gap in federal civil rights laws by explicitly banning discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. The bill, passed by the House in May but stalled in the Senate, seeks to balance the scales for the LGBTQ+ community in all parts of public and commercial life, including housing, employment, credit, education and government-funded programs. The Trump administration opposes it.
The plan by Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, would add a third, non-binary gender option, “X,” to the U.S. passport program, following a wave of states that have updated their driver’s licenses to include the new category.
He also vows to rescind the Trump administration’s restriction on transgender military service, which took effect in April. The policy bars any openly transgender or transitioning person from enlisting, and discharges those already in the military who openly identify themselves as such.
According to a Public Religion Research Institute poll conducted the month the rule was implemented, 63% of Americans supported transgender military service. Those agreeing included 47% of the Republicans surveyed ― a 10% uptick from the organization’s findings in August 2017.
On health care, the Medicare for All Who Want It plan Buttigieg previously unveiled would provide coverage of gender-affirming treatments and surgical procedures, which currently may not be covered depending on the type of insurer and the state in which a patient is enrolled in coverage. Though the Affordable Care Act outlaws health insurance discrimination based on gender identity, legal fights have ensued at state and local levels over the matter.
Included in Buttigieg’s health care proposal would be coverage of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, the drug that protects high-risk individuals from contracting HIV.
Data released earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that in 2017, only 35% of gay and bisexual men at risk of HIV were using PrEP, a number the agency said was “too low.” Overall, according to the federal government, “of the estimated 1 million Americans at substantial risk for HIV and who could benefit from PrEP, less than 1 in 4 are actually using this medication.”
A major complication is that PrEP, branded as Truvada and manufactured by Gilead Sciences, can cost up to $2,000 per month. The federal government has attempted to obtain patents for the drug, spurring a challenge in August by Gilead.
Buttigieg’s Becoming Whole initiative sets a goal of ending HIV/AIDS by 2030. While that goal has also been adopted by Trump, in 2018, the president fired all members of his HIV/AIDS council who hadn’t already resigned in protest of his health policies, virtually shuttering operations for more than a year. New staffers were not announced until March.
Further signaling a lack of attention to the epidemic, the White House Office of National AIDS Policy has been inactive, having had no director since Amy Lansky stepped down in 2017. Buttigieg pledged to revitalize the office as president.
The release of his expansive list of initiatives comes as he prepares to join eight other Democratic presidential candidates Thursday night for CNN’s LGBTQ town hall in Los Angeles; others slated to appear include former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was scheduled to participate in the forum, but canceled after suffering a heart attack last week. He is expected to return to the campaign trail soon.