Three LGBTQ organizations have sued the Department of Health and Human Services over its refusal to enforce antidiscrimination protections during the COVID-19 crisis.
HHS announced in November that it would no longer require nonprofits receiving its grants to comply with regulations dating from President Barack Obama’s administration to avoid discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This move was one of many the federal government has made to revoke or weaken antidiscrimination measures since Donald Trump has been president. Such discrimination is dangerous at any time, but especially during a pandemic, notes a press release from the groups that filed the federal lawsuit.
Those suing are Family Equality, True Colors United, and SAGE, serving families, youth, and elders, respectively. They are represented by Lambda Legal and Democracy Forward. The suit was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“We are suing the Trump administration because of its cruel effort to make it easier for HHS grant recipients to discriminate against LGBTQ youth, families, and older people, in ways that put their lives at risk,” Puneet Cheema, staff attorney at Lambda Legal, said in the release. “At any moment, but especially at a time of a global pandemic, it is callous to expose already vulnerable populations to discrimination, and allow them to be denied basic, critical services. The federal government should be making sure everyone who receives HHS grant funding does not deny LGBTQ people access to critical, lifesaving services like health care, housing, and child welfare services, instead of inviting discrimination, as they do here.”
There are many venues that could discriminate because of HHS’s move, according to the organizations. LGBTQ people could be turned away from homeless shelters, and with the health crisis, the demand for shelter is likely to increase — say, by LGBTQ students whose colleges have been closed and who do not have accepting families. Such shelters could also require LGBTQ youth to undergo conversion therapy. Groups that provide meal delivery to homebound people could decide not to serve those who are LGBTQ, and there is greater demand for meal delivery because of the pandemic. Adult day care programs could refuse to accept transgender people. Adoption and foster care agencies could refuse to place children with LGBTQ people.
“By abdicating its responsibility to protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination in accessing critical programs, HHS commits a grave violation against the people it exists to serve,” said Gregory Lewis, executive director and CEO of True Colors United. “LGBTQ youth are 120 percent more likely to experience homelessness than their straight and cisgender peers. Transgender youth are at especially high risk and face unique types of discrimination and trauma while experiencing homelessness. Young people should never have to fear discrimination or violence in seeking services, and we must not fail them by rolling back the very policies meant to protect them.”
“Family Equality takes no pleasure in suing HHS — rather, we wish the federal government were responsive to the needs of vulnerable LGBTQ Americans — but under the circumstances we have no choice but to ask the courts to intervene to ensure LGBTQ people are afforded the protections we deserve,” added the Rev. Stan J. Sloan, CEO of Family Equality.
“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 supports 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.”
HHS administers approximately $500 billion in federal grants.