President Biden has criticized anti-trans legislation as “just cruel,” singling out recent developments in Florida in particular as “close to sinful” and suggesting that the federal government needs to legislate to protect transgender rights nationally.
Florida has introduced a raft of measures restricting the rights of transgender people, including a ban on minors receiving puberty blockers as treatment for gender dysphoria, and preventing trans patients from using Medicaid to pay for gender-affirming care. New proposals in the state would also require teachers to use the pronouns of the sex the child was assigned at birth and extend a ban on teaching about gender and sexuality.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has cast himself as an opponent to what he calls the “woke” left and made such measures a prominent part of his agenda, has privately indicated that he intends to run for president in 2024, The Washington Post previously reported.
The measures in Florida mirror movements across the country — since 2020, hundreds of bills have been introduced in about half of the 50 states targeting trans people and especially trans youth.
Penn — who had worked as a staffer in the Obama administration for two years, before stepping back to return to acting — had asked Biden what the government could do to protect “trans kids who are dealing with all these regressive state laws that are popping up right now.”
Biden, a lifelong Catholic who has also spoken out in support of abortion access, said the only solution is to “make sure we pass legislation like we passed on same-sex marriage.”
“It’s not like a kid wakes up one morning and says, you know, I decided I want to become a man, or I want to become a woman, or I want to change,” the president continued. “I mean, what are they thinking about here? They’re human beings. They love. They have feelings, they have inclinations.”
Penn, who revealed he was gay in 2021 and is engaged to his long-term partner, also asked Biden about how his stance on marriage equality had developed.
In 1996, Biden voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, which created a federal definition of marriage “as only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
However, he has consistently spoken out in support of marriage equality in more recent years — including in 2012 when, as vice president, he endorsed same-sex marriage before President Barack Obama. In December, Biden signed a milestone law granting federal protections to same-sex and interracial couples.
“I can remember exactly where my epiphany was,” the president told Penn, saying that as a high school senior he “hadn’t thought much about it, to tell you the truth.”
His father was dropping him off when they saw “two well-dressed men in suits” kiss, he recalled. “And I’ll never forget it. I turned and looked at my dad, he said, ‘Joey, it’s simple. They love each other.’”