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US Agency Could Pave Way for Anti-LGBT Discrimination

Trump Administration Proposal Targets Nondiscrimination Protections in Health and Welfare Services

The picture shows the emblem of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. © Tim Brakemeier/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funds thousands of organizations that work on important health and social welfare issues including adoption and foster care, youth homelessness, and sexuality education. Currently, recipients of HHS funding cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But a new Trump Administration proposal could change that.

The proposed rule would allow organizations to receive federal funds even if they discriminate in their services. While they consider enacting the rule, HHS will stop enforcing existing regulations prohibiting grantees from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Today, Human Rights Watch submitted a comment to HHS, detailing how the proposed rule undermines children’s rights as well as the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, and urging HHS to reject it.

The rule would affect a broad range of federally funded programs. HHS dispenses more than US$500 billion annually to service providers, including adoption and foster care agencies.

When agencies are not required to comply with nondiscrimination provisions, they may turn away LGBT parents. Human Rights Watch has documented how discrimination in child welfare can harm families like Chris and CJ, who almost gave up on parenting after being turned away from three agencies because they were gay. Luckily, they persisted and found a fourth agency, and were able to foster and adopt children who have thrived in their care.  

While civil rights laws often prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin, disability, and age, few expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This year, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which would protect LGBT people from discrimination in federally funded programs as well as employment, housing, education, and public services. But the measure is stalled in the US Senate.

The Trump Administration should abandon this proposal and ensure federally funded programs serve everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In the meantime, the Senate should pass the Equality Act, ensuring no administration can undermine nondiscrimination protections and making clear discrimination against LGBT people is wrong no matter where it occurs.

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