Biden Takes Aim at DeSantis With Transgender Executive Order

President Joe Biden launched his own plan to protect the health care of transgender youth after Republican Governor Ron DeSantis moved to end gender-affirming care for minors in Florida.

Biden signed an executive order on Wednesday calling on the Department of Health and Human Services to clarify that federally funded programs are banned from offering conversion therapy and to take "steps to address the barriers and exclusionary policies" by expanding access to different types of health care and treatment.

Conversion therapy, a practice seeking to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity, is already banned in at least 20 states and Washington, D.C., according to the think tank Movement Advancement Project.

Biden's move comes less than two weeks after DeSantis' administration asked the state board regulating doctors to ban Medicaid coverage for minors seeking transition-related care, which includes puberty blockers, hormone therapies or gender-reassignment surgery.

Biden DeSantis LGBTQ Transgender
President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at protecting the health care of transgender youth after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis moved to ban gender-affirming care for minors in his state. Biden delivers remarks on June 14, 2022, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hannah Beier/Getty

In a statement sent to Newsweek, Brock Juarez, communications director for DeSantis' Agency of Health Care Administration, called Biden's stance "ironic."

"It's ironic that the Biden administration continues to claim their policies only support 'affirming care' while simultaneously defending and promoting permanent, harmful, and irreversible sex-change operations for children," Juarez said. "We have remained consistent that in Florida we must protect children and parental rights, and our Medicaid program should not be paying for medical experiments."

DeSantis is among a string of Republican state officials who have restricted access to health care for transgender youth in recent months.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott also stirred controversy in February for ordering the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents who provide their children with gender-affirming care. Across the U.S., over 300 anti-LGBTQ laws have been introduced in state legislatures this year, according to the White House.

Back in March, the Justice Department had warned states that blocking access to gender-affirming care could violate federal law.

"President Biden always stands up to bullies. And that's what these extreme MAGA laws and policies do—they bully kids," Biden officials told reporters on Wednesday.

Wednesday's order, which was signed "in celebration of Pride Month," will also set up programs to address the mental health crisis among LGBTQ youth and expand access to suicide prevention resources for this group.

Data collected by the federal health department found that children whose gender or sexual identity is rejected by their families are over eight times more likely to attempt suicide and nearly six times likelier to report serious depression.

The Florida Department of Health told Newsweek that the state based its policy on "the best available evidence and policies from around the world."

"It appears that Florida is ahead of the curve, and the Biden Administration is going backwards based on political-based medicine instead of evidence-based medicine," said department spokesperson Jeremy Redfern.

Biden's assistant health secretary Rachel Levine, the first openly transgender senior administration official, said the order "makes it easier for people living in this country to live their lives openly and freely without fear of harassment, scorn or attack."

"I have no room in my heart for hatred and I have no time for intolerance, but we don't live in a world where everyone feels that way, and this administration understands that more action is needed," Levine said of the president's move.

Update 06/15/22 6:28 p.m. This story was updated with comments from Juarez.

Update 06/15/22 6:52 p.m. This story was updated with comments from Redfern.