With just 7 days left to the Trump administration, the Department of Health and Human Services has finalized a rule permitting social-service providers that receive government funds to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Critics of the new guidance claim it could have wide-ranging implications for agencies that address adoption and foster-parenting, as well as homelessness, HIV prevention, elder care and other public services, reports NBC News.
Sasha Buchert, senior attorney for the LGBTQ civil rights group Lambda Legal, blasted the rule, saying: “Even as Trump administration officials abandon ship, HHS has announced yet another dangerous rule that invites discrimination against the very people federal grant programs are meant to help.”
According to the 77-page release, published Tuesday in the Federal Register, Obama-era requirements that agencies refrain from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity and recognize same-sex marriages as legally valid violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“Given the careful balancing of rights, obligations, and goals in the public-private partnerships in federal grant programs, the Department believes it appropriate to impose only those nondiscrimination requirements required by the Constitution and federal statutes,” the rule states.
The new rule, which is slated to take effect on Feb. 11, targets child welfare organizations, according to Julie Kruse, director of federal policy for LGBTQ advocacy group Family Equality.
NBC News reports: “Whether private adoption agencies receiving taxpayer money can deny services to same-sex potential parents is at the heart of Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, now before the Supreme Court. Kruse said both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have made allowing discrimination in adoption and foster care a priority over the last four years.”
According to Kruse, Tuesday’s final rule could also allow a homeless shelter to turn away a queer teen and a senior center to refuse to drive an elderly gay man to his doctor’s appointment.
Kruse is confident, however, that the rule will be overturned by the incoming Biden administration, calling it a “nasty parting shot that won’t stand.” But she admits “it does clog up the works; it does delay protections.”
Dena Sher, associate vice president of public policy at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called the DoE guidance “discrimination underwritten by tax dollars and tuition fees,” Inside Higher Ed reported.
In his LGBTQ policy statement, President-elect Biden promised to reverse the HHS rule “and work to ensure that qualified families are not discriminated against based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, sex, marital status, disability, or religion and that child-welfare agencies put the interests of children first, including those who are LGBTQ+.”
And in a statement on Monday, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., vowed to work with the incoming administration “to restore humanity to HHS.”
“From Day One, the Trump administration has been determined to roll back essential protections for LGBTQ+ Americans, religious minorities and other vulnerable communities,” Wyden, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, stated.
“It’s no surprise that in its last days the Trump administration has delivered a devastating blow to try and permanently greenlight taxpayer-funded discrimination and put the health and well being of children and families across the nation at grave risk,” he added.