Lawsuit Claims Trump Administration Unlawfully Ending the Enforcement of Nondiscrimination Protections for LGBTQ Americans

The Trump administration is unlawfully planning to stop enforcing nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans, a new lawsuit claims. The lawsuit, filed against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), focuses on a proposed rule issued in November that would upend an Obama-era rule against discrimination in federally funded grant programs.

Civil rights group Lambda Legal and the nonprofit Democracy Forward joined forces to file the lawsuit on behalf of three LGBTQ advocacy groups: True Colors United, SAGE and Family Equality. The lawsuit claims the Trump administration has made concerted efforts to erode the civil rights and federal protections of LGBTQ Americans.

The organizations allege in the lawsuit that the HHS “notice of nonenforcement” issued in November 2019 is unlawful and sends the message that the department will only protect people under programs’ limited non-discrimination requirements.

“In conflict with HHS’s established rules and policy, Defendants have engaged in systematic efforts to undermine the civil rights of, and non-discrimination protections for, LGBTQ people in the United States,” the lawsuit said. “HHS’s decision to walk away entirely from enforcing the still-valid 2016 Grants Rule is a glaring example.”

The lawsuit states that HHS’ decision to not enforce the rule would affect the $500 billion in grant money the department administers. That money is used to fund organizations that provide health and welfare services, such as homeless shelters and foster care, to millions of Americans.

“The Federal Government has a duty to protect the most vulnerable among us—especially with regard to our youth. 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,” Gregory Lewis, executive director and CEO of True Colors United, said in a statement.

In a statement, the HHS Office of Public Affairs told The North Star it “does not comment on pending litigation.”

NBC News noted that in its November statement discussing the notice of nonenforcement, the department claimed it was “committed to fully enforcing the civil rights laws passed by Congress.” That statement also said that the proposal would “better align” HHS grant regulations with “federal statues, eliminating regulatory burden, including burden on the free exercise of religion.”

This is hardly the first time the Trump administration has moved to exclude LGBTQ people from discrimination guidelines. In December 2019, NBC News reported that the Interior Department removed “sexual orientation” from its anti-discrimination guidelines. But the erasure goes back to when President Donald Trump was first sworn in. GLAAD, a national LGBTQ advocacy group, reported that the White House, State Department and Labor Department removed LGBTQ content within “minutes” of Trump coming into office.

Who Will Be Affected

The lawsuit from the LGBTQ advocacy groups noted that LGBTQ youths are particularly at risk without these protections. Young people could face discrimination as they seek shelter though HHS’ Runaway and Homeless Program—especially as colleges and universities shut down to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Lewis noted that LGBTQ youths are 120 percent more likely to experience homelessness than straight and cisgender youths.

A November 2017 report by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) revealed that estimates show LGBTQ youth make up to 40 percent of the total unaccompanied homeless youth population. That rate is particularly alarming as LGBTQ youth only make up five to 10 percent of the overall youth population.

The LGBTQ advocacy groups also say that older LGBTQ adults will also be vulnerable to harassment or service refusal due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The lawsuit alleges that HHS’ “actions invite discrimination against vulnerable LGBTQ older people who depend on critical aging services to obtain nutrition, address social isolation, and receive holistic care.”

“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,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in a statement. “This is not the time for the Trump administration to eviscerate the rights of LGBT older people. In suing the Trump administration, SAGE and LGBT elders are stating that ‘we refuse to be invisible’ and we will have our day in court.”

What to Do

There are several organizations you can support to help LGBTQ people in the U.S.:

  • Lambda Legal: Get involved here.

  • Human Rights Campaign: Find ways to support the HRC here.

  • True Colors United (formerly True Colors Fund): To help the nonprofit address youth homelessness, click here.

  • SAGE: The organization advocates for LGBTQ elders. Support them here.

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About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.