HHS Reg Broadens Discriminatory Opt-Outs

HHS Reg Broadens Discriminatory Opt-Outs

Drawing immediate and widespread condemnation, the Trump administration on November 1 proposed a new rule giving recipients of Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funding — including adoption and foster care agencies — the ability to discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion.

The rule, which would unravel President Barack Obama’s 2016 rule banning recipients of HHS funding from discrimination, marks the latest development in a visible rightward shift at HHS under the Trump administration. The move came roughly six months after HHS unveiled a proposal that erased Obamacare rules protecting individuals on the basis gender identity and sexual orientation and nine months after the agency granted taxpayer-funded foster care agencies in South Carolina with an exemption from HHS nondiscrimination rules.

The rule was unveiled on a Friday afternoon, but that didn’t stop LGBTQ groups, progressive religious organizations, advocates for seniors, and others from sounding alarms about the anticipated effects of the rule. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York has vowed to challenge the rule in courts.

If finalized, the rule would apply broadly, affecting foster care agencies, HIV prevention services, senior care offerings, and other recipients of federal funding from HHS.

HHS claimed in a November 1 statement that the rule realigns the agency in accordance with the Constitution, federal statutes, and Supreme Court decisions. The administration contends that those precedents and laws prevent the government from infringing on religious freedom, but said nothing about the way in which the latest rule impacts LGBTQ Americans.

The Coalition for Homeless Youth, which is dedicated to assisting runaway and homeless youth and consists of dozens of New York-based member organizations ranging from the Ali Forney Center to the Hetrick-Martin Institute, pointed to the high percentage of homeless LGBTQ youth as it blasted the most recent proposed rule.

“Today’s rule sent a clear message that this administration doesn’t care about [LGBT youth’s] well-being,” Jamie Powlovich, the coalition’s executive director, said. “This is not okay.”

Advocacy and Services for LGBT Elders (SAGE), an organization dedicated to serving the needs of queer seniors, noted in a written statement that the rule targets programs benefitting seniors and warned that “their access to their programs is at risk.”

“This latest announcement from the Trump administration is yet another salvo in the war the administration has conducted against the most basic rights of LGBT people,” SAGE said. “In this year that marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, enough is enough. The federal government should be championing non-discrimination protections, not advancing discrimination.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, described Trump’s move as “an abuse of taxpayer dollars” in the name of “empowering hatred and bigotry towards society’s most vulnerable members.”

“Stigma and prejudice are fueling a public health crisis among transgender people across the country, one that manifests itself as suicide, addiction, intimate partner violence, and HIV,” Keisling said. “Enabling providers of life-saving services to worsen these crises by rejecting transgender people is a moral crime and a severe abdication of HHS’s mission to preserve public health.”

ACT UP New York also voiced outrage, saying in a tweet that the rule “will disproportionately impact our queer, trans, and non-binary siblings and HIV and STI related initiatives. Shame on this administration for attempting to erase us.”

Like all other proposed rules, there will be a waiting period during which folks can submit feedback to the administration via comments. In the meantime, Cuomo, who called the move “heartless and dumb as it would deny countless children a loving family and a safe place to call home,” said in a tweet that he would take legal action against the administration, but did not elaborate upon his plans.

Expectedly, Trump’s proposal drew praise from religious leaders who hailed the move as a win for religious liberty. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops unveiled a rosy statement commending the administration and griping about the Obama-era rule.

“To restrict faith-based organizations’ work by infringing on religious freedom — as the 2016 rule threatened to do — is unfair and serves no one, especially the children in need of these services,” the group stated. “We welcome today’s proposed rule modifications and look forward to reviewing and commenting on them further.”

New Ways Ministry, a group dedicated to LGBTQ Catholics, specifically called out the bishops for their support of a proposal that New Ways said “is not for the poor, but harshly against them.”

“This new rule, now in effect, will damage thousands and potentially millions of Americans lives,” New Ways Ministry’s associate director, Robert Shine, said in a written statement. “Children in need of foster or adoptive parents will be deprived of loving homes as their potential parents face discrimination. And some of society’s most vulnerable groups who already struggle, like youth experiencing homelessness, people living with HIV, and those seeking treatment for addiction, will have their sufferings compounded.”