Biden’s State of the Union Included One Rote Mention of Trans Americans

LGBTQ+ activists have grown increasingly frustrated with Biden’s seeming lack of urgency, as the president offers the same rhetoric each year with vanishingly less meat on its bones. Some, including transgender Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr, have warned the administration that its proffered compromises on trans rights come at the risk of further emboldening the far right.

Much of Biden’s speech on Thursday night focused on his upcoming election battle with former president Donald Trump, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and overall economic improvement in areas like inflation and unemployment. But in making his case against Trump, Biden committed at least one unforced error, when he responded off the cuff to GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. During the speech, Greene heckled Biden by calling out the name “Laken Riley,” a 22-year-old woman who was killed in February allegedly by an undocumented immigrant. Biden went off-script to respond to Greene, holding up a button with Riley’s name on it and proclaiming that she was “killed by an illegal.” (Notably, Biden’s speech did not mention Nex Benedict, the 16-year-old Oklahoma student whose tragic death sparked a national outcry last month.)

Immigrant rights groups and Democratic politicians alike blasted Biden’s outdated and offensive language, with the National Immigrant Justice Center calling the exchange “dangerous […] racist and dehumanizing” in a statement on social media Thursday night. The gaffe occurred as Biden faces increased scrutiny on immigration from the left, as progressive Democrats accuse him of endorsing Republican border policies to curry favor.

Biden also faced hostility from protestors before he even arrived at the Capitol, as hundreds of demonstrators calling for a ceasefire in Gaza blocked the president’s motorcade with a “People’s State of the Union” rally, causing the speech to be delayed. During his speech, Biden pledged to open a port in Gaza for emergency aid, a promise international aid organization Doctors Without Borders called a “glaring distraction” from Israel’s bombing campaign.

“Through the People’s State of the Union and the historic civil disobedience, protestors representing a broad cross-section of the base that got President Biden elected offered an alternative vision based on collective liberation, real safety, and justice,” the rally’s organizers wrote in an emailed press release late Thursday night. “Despite his claims, President Biden has the power to end the genocide in Gaza and make a permanent ceasefire the reality right now.”

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