A coalition of organizations and individual doctors are suing the Trump administration for its recent rollback of LGBTQ healthcare protections. Among the plaintiffs are Allentown’s Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, Whitman-Walker Health, the Trans Latin@ Coalition, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, and AGLP: The Association of LGBTQ Psychiatrists. The lawsuit was filed by Lambda Legal and Steptoe & Johnson LLP.
The Department of Health and Human Services published the rule on June 19 that reverses Obama-era LGBTQ healthcare protections “by returning to the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word “sex” as male or female and as determined by biology.” The rule is scheduled to take effect on August 18.
In 2016, the Obama administration expanded Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act—which prevents healthcare discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability—to include protections for LGBTQ individuals. The Trump administration has sought to roll back such protections since 2017.
In its press release, HHS wrote that the Obama-era protections went “beyond the plain meaning of the law as enacted by Congress.”
Under the revised rule, transgender people could be denied healthcare on the basis of their gender identity. For example, healthcare providers could refuse to administer a trans patient’s hormones or even a test for COVID-19.
The expanded Section 1557 has been hovering in a judicial back-and-forth since its inception. In late 2016, a federal judge in Texas issued an injunction which prohibited the HHS Office of Civil Rights from enforcing it. Two years later, federal judges in Wisconsin and Minnesota ruled in separate cases that Section 1557 does affirm transgender protections. And last year, the same judge in Texas again ruled against the policy, stating that it violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney and health care strategist for Lambda Legal, said in a press conference that the recent Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which led to nationwide employment discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, will help bolster the lawsuit.
“Now there is just no doubt that discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status is a form of sex discrimination. The actions by this administration are in defiance of Supreme Court precedent and part of an agenda to hurt the LGBTQ community.”
Adrian Shanker, executive director of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, the only Pennsylvania-based plaintiff in the lawsuit, told PGN “We are suing on behalf of LGBTQ communities across the country. This is essential for the LGBTQ community’s ability to access care. We wish we had a federal administration that instead of removing access to healthcare would be working to extend healthcare for all people, including LGBTQ people.”
Shanker also said that LGBTQ people in rural areas are especially affected by such rollbacks because of lower access to healthcare.
“If there are providers who have an invitation to discriminate, it lessens the ability to receive care within one or two hours drive of the county where an LGBTQ person lives. Nondiscrimination protections are essential for everyone, but perhaps more essential when we’re talking about rural communities with fewer options for care.”
Last year, the Bradbury-Sullivan Center joined eight other plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Trump administration over its proposed moral “conscience rule” which would have allowed providers to deny service based on religious or moral objections. A federal judge later blocked the rule.