Groups Say HHS Grant Change Invites LGBT Discrimination

MANHATTAN (CN) — Four months after the Trump administration removed a nondiscrimination barrier on health or welfare organizations seeking federal grants, a trio of advocacy groups filed suit Thursday for an injunction.

The nondiscrimination provision was only as old as the last administration: President Barrack Obama signed off on revised grant regulations for Health and Human Services in December 2016, just before leaving office.

Supporters of LGBT rights stage a protest on the street in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 8, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Among other things, the rule explicitly prohibited discrimination based on age, disability, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity in HHS-funded grant programs.

Three years later, the Trump administration snuffed it out, couching the move in the language of protecting free speech for religious communities.

Specifically the government issued a “notice of nonenforcement” of the regulation, sparking a federal complaint Thursday in New York led by the group Family Equality.

Represented by Jeffrey Dubner with the Democracy Forward Foundation in Washington, the challengers say nonenforcement of the nondiscrimination policy will hurt vulnerable gay or transgender communities, whether they be homeless youth, families interacting with the child-welfare system, or isolated seniors.

“The anti-discrimination provisions in the 2016 Grants Rule provided clear and uniform protections for LGBTQ youth and families receiving HHS-funded services, as well for the millions of people who receive services across all HHS grant programs,” the complaint states.

“By abandoning these protections, the Trump administration affirmatively invites discrimination, especially on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” the complaint states.

LGTBQ youth represent more than 30% of the population in foster care, even though they comprise just 11% of youth overall, the complaint notes.

Similarly, LGBTQ youth are also 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their non-LGBTQ peers and comprise 40% of all youth experiencing homelessness.

“As a result of HHS’s unlawful decision to abandon enforcement of existing law, HHS sends a message that it intends to protect beneficiaries and participants under only a limited hodgepodge of nondiscrimination requirements found in the programs’ underlying statutes,” the complaint states.

Invoking the Administrative Procedure Act, the challengers contend that the nondiscrimination-policy rollback was arbitrary and capricious because the department failed to provide a reasoned explanation for their actions and to consider important aspects of the problem.

“The notice is devoid of any discussion regarding the harms that may result from its appearing to give grantees a license to discriminate, or regarding the potential violation of the constitutional rights of LGBTQ people, such as those the Supreme Court recognized in Obergefell and Windsor,” the complaint stats

The Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the 2015 case Obergefell v. Hodges, two years after striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in the United States v. Windsor ruling.

Another tack taken by the challengers is that the Trump administration concluded improperly that the 2016 Grants Rule did not comply with the Regulatory Flexibility Act.

Representatives for the Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.

The other plaintiffs behind the suit are the New York advocacy groups Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders and True Colors United Inc.

Last November in the Southern District of New York, U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer blocked an attempt by the Trump administration to let medical workers refuse services, including abortions, based on their religious beliefs and moral objections.

Engelmayer vacated the refusal-of-care rule in a 147-page ruling, saying Health and Human Services had trampled the U.S. Constitution.

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