New lawsuit seeks to stop Trump attack on LGBTQ health care

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Plaintiffs say the Trump administration rule would allow discrimination against LGBTQ people in health care.

A week after a historic U.S. Supreme Court victory for equality in the workplace, a civil rights group is suing the Trump administration over its most recent attack on the LGBTQ community.

Lambda Legal, a legal advocacy organization focused on the LGBTQ community, announced it is filing suit with co-counsel Steptoe & Johnson LLP to oppose a Trump administration rule that they say would allow discrimination against LGBTQ people in health care.

The Department of Health and Human Services finalized the rule on June 12; it is scheduled to go into effect on Aug. 18. It would roll back a regulation under Obamacare that defined discrimination based on sex to include "one's internal sense of gender, which may be male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female, and which may be different from an individual's sex assigned at birth."

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Health and Human Services said it considered discrimination based on sex "according to the plain meaning of the word 'sex' as male or female and as determined by biology."

The new rule also removed protections against discrimination in health care based on HIV status and eliminated language access requirements.

Lambda Legal and Steptoe represent a coalition of LGBTQ groups, their LGBTQ staff, and the LGBTQ people these organizations serve. The groups include Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, D.C.; the TransLatin@ Coalition in Los Angeles; the Los Angeles LGBT Center; GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality in Washington, D.C.; and four individual doctors.

The suit against the Department of Health and Human Services comes exactly a week after the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination based on sex, includes discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a senior attorney and health care strategist with Lambda Legal, said the Supreme Court decision is "wind in our sails."

"Now there is no doubt that discrimination based on transgender status is a form of sex discrimination ... The actions of this administration are in defiance of Supreme Court precedent and authority and part of an agenda to hurt the LGBTQ community," said Gonzalez-Pagan.

Bamby Salcedo, founder of the TransLatin@ Coalition, said she is one of the LGBTQ people Lambda Legal is filing suit on behalf of. 

"I'm trans Latina undocumented immigrant who has experienced discrimination while trying to access health care ... The discrimination we experience starts from the beginning — not just doctors but security guards, receptionists, and further on, and those who are lucky to get in front of doctor are discriminated against because of who we are. I've been told, 'We don't serve people like you.' This is something that happens even in 2020," Salcedo said.

Fear of discrimination often drives LGBTQ people to avoid getting the health care they need. According to a survey published in 2017 by the Center for American Progress on discrimination in the LGBTQ community, 23.5% of transgender respondents had avoided doctors' offices in the previous year compared to 4.4% of cisgender lesbian, gay, and bisexual respondents.

The attacks on LGBTQ people's access to health care come as they continue to grapple with a pandemic that affects their economic security as well as their health. LGBTQ people have lost jobs as states have enforced health measures, or they often work in jobs that are more likely to expose them to the coronavirus.

Many LGBTQ people have an increased risk of severe illness resulting from infection with the coronavirus.

Naseema Shafi, the CEO of Whitman-Walker, said, "We do know that the coronavirus is disproportionately impacting the LGBTQ community broadly. Many of the essential workers here in the District of Columbia are members of the LGBTQ community and as a result are more likely to contract the coronavirus."

Said Shafi, "Because we know a lot of testing that is happening across the country is happening in lockup environments or drive-through environments, I do think it is a fairly good assumption that there will be and probably already is discrimination in how people are accessing that care."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.