Several LGBTQ organizations have filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “Notice of Nonenforcement” that allows recipients of federal grants to discriminate against LGBTQ people, highlighting the negative impact the rule could have during the coronavirus pandemic.
This past November, HHS issued the notice along with a new proposed rule to allow organizations that get its grants to refuse to serve people, even if they’re discriminating based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. The Trump administration said the goal was to “eliminate regulatory burden, including burden on the free exercise of religion.”
The estimated $500 million annually in grant money goes to organizations involved in adoption, foster care, health care, and child care programs.
Family Equality, SAGE, and True Colors United have sued HHS with help from Democracy Forward and Lambda Legal, saying in a press release that it “endangers already vulnerable populations, especially as the country confronts the coronavirus pandemic.”
The organizations’ release gives a number of situations where the rule could make life harder for LGBTQ people during the pandemic. For example, homeless shelters receiving federal grant money could refuse to accept LGBTQ people at a time when college and university housing systems are closing, a problem because LGBTQ people 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,'” the organizations said.
They also discussed home meal delivery programs for the elderly that are funded with HHS grants and are especially necessary now since elders are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus and might have even more trouble getting food than usual.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, argues that the notice violates the Administrative Procedure Act, a 1946 law that governs how executive departments can make new rules, requiring transparency and judicial oversight over the process.
Under Donald Trump, HHS “unlawfully adopted a substantive rule that guts the anti-discrimination provisions” created during the Obama administration, according to the organizations’ lawsuit.
According to the complaint, HHS issued the notice without asking for public comment, the rule is “arbitrary and capricious,” and HHS failed to offer an explanation of why they needed to stop enforcing the rule and what they were going to do about possible harms that come from discrimination.
“Now more than ever, we see the critical role that the federal government must play to protect the most vulnerable and at-risk members of society,” said SAGE CEO Michael Adams. “Ensuring that all older people have access to critical aging services and support free from discrimination is vital for the health and well-being of LGBT elders. This is not the time for the Trump administration to eviscerate the rights of LGBT older people.”
The notice “runs counter to HHS’ mission — to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans — and instead places the well-being of millions of vulnerable LGBTQ Americans at risk,” said Family Equality CEO Rev. Stan J. Sloan in the press release.