Advocates are blasting the Trump administration for removing resources on anti-LGBTQ discrimination in healthcare settings from a federal website.
In a pattern that has become familiar over the past year and a half, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) scrubbed information regarding Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) web page. The guidelines prohibit discrimination on the basis of categories like “gender identity” and “sex stereotyping” in federally funded health centers.
Although enforcement has been blocked by a Dec. 2017 injunction from a Texas federal judge, information regarding Section 1557 was excised from a list of “General Questions” regarding the Obama-era rule.
HHS claimed it would “continue to enforce important projections” while the injunction is in place.
“Areas of sex discrimination that HHS OCR may continue to enforce include: harassment based on sex and allegations related to sex stereotyping that do not involve gender identity claims, as well as other forms of discrimination based on sex other than gender identity or termination of pregnancy,” the language read.
That sentence was removed from the HHS website, as the Sunlight Foundation watchdog group first reported on Thursday.
The White House also erased information from a question on which “types of discrimination constitute discrimination on the basis of sex.” Prior to this week, the HHS website claimed that the Supreme Court ruled in 1989’s Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins that “discrimination based on stereotypical ideas about gender is unlawful sex discrimination.”
In that landmark case, Ann Hopkins sued her former employer, Price Waterhouse, claiming she was denied partnership at the firm because she did not adhere to sex stereotypes associated with femininity.
SCOTUS ruled such discrimination is unlawful.
“While the final rule does not resolve whether discrimination on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation status alone is a form of sex discrimination under Section 1557, the rule makes clear that OCR will evaluate complaints related to an individual’s sexual orientation to determine if they involve the sorts of sex stereotyping that can be addressed under 1557,” HHS claimed.
“HHS supports prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination as a matter of policy and will continue to monitor legal developments on this issue,” the website read.
That language was also erased from federal resources.
Jocelyn Samuels, former director of the Office of Civil Rights during the Obama administration, told the Sunlight Foundation that these changes could have “a damaging impact” on queer and trans populations as the Trump administration continues to roll back LGBTQ rights.
Samuels claimed the language “was intended to inform those subject to discrimination that they continue to have rights,” despite “impressions they may have gotten about the injunction based on press releases.”
Advocacy groups claimed the erasure of resources geared toward the LGBTQ community is “yet another example of the Trump Administration’s efforts to erase our communities and keep us in the dark about health care protections still in place under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act,” as the Transgender Legal Defense Education Fund’s Dolph Goldenburg claimed.
“The Department of Health and Human Services should be working to ensure that all Americans, including transgender Americans, have access to safe, affordable health care and knowledge about how to address health care discrimination when they encounter it,” its interim executive director said in a statement to INTO.
“By scrubbing vital information about health care rights from its website, HHS sends a message that it doesn’t care about protecting trans health care rights and may be actively working to undermine them,” he added.
Harper Jean Tobin of the National Center for Trans Equality said these changes send a false message that health centers have a license to discriminate.
“The findings of this report highlight the relentless effort by this administration to distort and disregard the law and the rights and humanity of transgender people,” the NCTE director of policy claimed in comments shared via email. “The Department of Health and Human Services should be clarifying the law and protecting people, but the Trump administration clearly wants to muddy the waters and make people think discrimination is legal.”
Earlier this year the Trump administration announced it was restructuring HHS to create a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. As INTO reported earlier this year, the department’s efforts permit people of faith to deny health care to LGBTQ individuals and people with HIV based on their religious beliefs.
This week’s revelations follow a long series of decisions by the Trump administration to erase LGBTQ resources from federal websites.
HHS removed references to lesbians and bisexual women from WomensHealth.gov, while the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) eliminated information on LGBTQ homelessness. The Department of Justice (DOJ) obliterated references to queer and trans youth who are victims of sex trafficking, and all references to the National HIV/AIDS Strategy across the White House’s website were removed.
The Trump administration even took down a statement from former Secretary of State John Kerry in January 2017 apologizing for the “Lavender Scare” — the purge of gay employees from governmental departments in the 1950s.
But as the White House erases LGBTQ people in everything from federal data surveys to civil rights, advocacy groups vowed to continue fighting these attacks.
“[The Trump administration has] sought to ban certain words from CDC reports (including ‘transgender” and ‘diversity’), turned away transgender students with civil rights complaints from the Department of Education, attempted to ban transgender service members in the military, and numerous other actions that only seem to have a singular priority: attacking LGBTQ people simply for existing,” said Human Rights Campaign Director of Government Affairs David Stacy in a statement.
“We will continue to fight alongside our coalition partners against the anti-LGBTQ actions of this Administration,” he added. “Despite their efforts, we will not be erased.”