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Rep. David Cicilline: Pandemic Relief Must Include LGBTQ Protections

Cicilline

A lesbian nurse in Michigan, in the ICU with coronavirus, pleads with people to make sure that if she dies, her child can stay with her wife instead of going into foster care.

A gay police officer in Florida dies from coronavirus and his police chief tells his fellow officers that his death was a result of his attending “homosexual sexual events.”

A transgender Latina in New York who spent her life assisting the LGBTQ community, including sex workers and other marginalized people, is an early case of death from coronavirus.

A gay HIV-positive asylum seeker in Arizona, already suffering from inadequate medical care, is released from detention after advocates raise the profile of his case and his unique vulnerabilities during the coronavirus crisis.

The experiences of LGBTQ+ people are diverse, and an integral part of the coronavirus story. Some are working under pressure to save the lives of their communities. Some are keeping the community at large safe. Some have fled from violence and persecution to make a better life in the United States. Their stories must all be heard.

When the COVID-19 public health crisis hit the United States, its citizens were not all equally equipped to weather the storm. Due to longstanding systematic injustices, coronavirus has disproportionately affected people of color and people with lower incomes due to discriminatory policies around health and housing, among other things. For LGBTQ+ individuals who are also racial or ethnic minorities, these inequities are even more pronounced.

The LGBTQ+ community faces unique challenges with barriers to accessing housing and health care. A 2017 report published by the Center for American Progress found that one in four LGBTQ+ individuals had faced harassment, abuse, or mistreatment while receiving health care within the past year because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTQ+ people are also over-represented when it comes to homelessness, with a Chapin Hall–University of Chicago study finding that 40 percent of homeless young people receiving assistance from service providers identified as LGBT. Unfortunately, federal law currently does not provide adequate protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.   

Despite being responsible for the health and well-being of all Americans and implementing strategies to address public health emergencies, last Friday the Trump administration took steps toward finalizing a proposed rule that would permit health care providers to discriminate against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity under the guise of religious freedom. 

Our community has been under attack for the past three years from an administration that is seeking to deny LGBTQ+ people access to basic protections against discrimination. It is particularly disturbing that HHS seeks to move forward with undoing Obama-era protections for LGBTQ+ people while we are in the middle of a public health emergency that may have a disproportionate impact on the LGBTQ+ community. About 65 percent of LGBTQ adults have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, or HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these conditions put them at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Enshrining discrimination into law has direct consequences to LGBTQ+ individuals.  The Trump administration’s policies have fostered an atmosphere that demeans the LGBTQ+ community and has been accompanied by a rise in hate crimes and other forms of mistreatment.

Discrimination is wrong and harmful and when it is combined with an international health crisis, it can be deadly. 

As Congress considers the next round of coronavirus relief, it must include language to guarantee that LGBTQ+ individuals are entitled to the same rights and protections as all other Americans. That’s why the co-chairs of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus asked that the next recovery package expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for all entities receiving federal grant funding. It is also why we need the Equality Act, which passed the House of Representatives last year, to become law – so we can ensure that protections available to LGBTQ+ people are not easily swayed by who controls the White House or the political persuasion of judges.

The coronavirus pandemic has shed a bright light on the numerous inequities that America has recklessly ignored time and time again. It is important to ensure that all people, including LGBTQ+ people, can face this difficult moment without the added burden of discrimination by the government.

Rep. David N. Cicilline is a Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus.

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