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Health & Human Services Department wants to discriminate against LGBTQ people, lawsuit says

Department of Health and Human Services

The federal Department of Health and Human Services wants to abolish nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans when it allocates $500 million in taxpayer money to organizations, according to a lawsuit filed against the agency by several LGBTQ organizations. Photo: iStock.

The federal Department of Health and Human Services wants to abolish nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans when it allocates $500 million in taxpayer money to organizations, according to a lawsuit filed against the agency by several LGBTQ organizations.

The suit centers on a “notice of nonenforcement” and a proposed rule issued by the Trump Administration in November that would do two things:

  • It would eliminate a 2016 Obama-era rule prohibiting discrimination in the Department of Health and Human Services funded grant programs.
  • It would allow federally funded organizations to refuse to help people because their sexual orientation or gender identity conflicts with the organization’s religious beliefs.

At the time the rule was proposed, the Trump Administration said the goal was to “eliminate regulatory burden, including burden on the free exercise of religion.”

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The Department of Health and Human Services would not comment on the lawsuit.

The complaint was filed last week by civil rights group Lambda Legal and nonprofit Democracy Forward on behalf of three LGBTQ advocacy groups — True Colors United, SAGE, and Family Equality.

The groups said in a joint press release that the proposed rule “endangers already vulnerable populations, especially as the country confronts the coronavirus pandemic.”

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The organizations said the proposed rule would make life harder for LGBTQ people during the COVID-19 crisis.

  • Homeless shelters that receive federal grant money could refuse to accept LGBTQ people at a time when college and university housing systems are closing to stop the spread of COVID-19. That lack of housing could be a problem because LGBTQ youth are more likely than the general population to experience homelessness.
  • A federally funded adult daycare provider could put a sign on the door saying, “No Trans People May Enter.”
  • Federally funded foster care agencies can refuse to place children with families because the prospective host family’s sexual orientation or gender identity conflicts with the agency’s religious views.
  • Child welfare agencies and homelessness service providers can engage in abusive and discriminatory practices, including verbal and physical abuse, conversion therapy, and forcing LGBTQ youth to accept services that deny their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • LGBTQ seniors are vulnerable to providers that subject them to harassment or refuse to offer services, such as home delivered meals, on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This behavior could happen at a time when senior centers have closed in various cities to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Approximately $500 million in federal grant money is at stake, according to the lawsuit. This figure is the amount the department allocates to organizations across the country who provide a variety of services, including child placement, homeless shelters, and elder care.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, said that the notice and proposed rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, a 1946 law that governs how executive departments can make new rules and requires transparency and judicial oversight of the process.

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The department of health and human services “unlawfully adopted a substantive rule that guts the anti-discrimination provisions” created during the Obama Administration, according to the complaint.

Also, the department issued the notice without seeking public comment and failed to explain why they needed to stop enforcing the rule and what they were going to do about possible harms that result from discrimination, according to the complaint.

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About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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