Rule changes are making social services less accessible for LGBTQ people.
In its final stretch in office, the Trump administration is continuing its attacks on protections for LGBTQ people. On Monday it issued changes to the rules on federal funding to social service organizations that apply to grants funded by nine agencies, rolling back protections introduced during the Obama administration.
The rules enacted under President Barack Obama required religious groups that receive federal money to provide social services, including shelters and soup kitchens, to give written notice to their clients that the programs they were accessing were being provided by a faith-based organization. They required that clients be given referrals to other, similar services nearby if they preferred an option that wasn't faith-based.
People accessing services were also to be informed of their rights in doing so, including the right not to be forced to participate in religious activities in order to obtain the services, such as attending a church service in order to receive food.
In its announcement of the proposed changes in January, the White House said, "The proposed rules would eliminate burdensome Obama-era requirements that unfairly imposed unique regulatory burdens only on religious organizations."
Advocates say the protections the Trump administration is eliminating are particularly important because faith-based organizations that receive government grants to provide social services often discriminate against LGBTQ people who approach them for help. Experts on the separation of church and state and on LGBTQ equality say that the rollback of these safeguards would harm LGBTQ people who might go to a faith-based homeless shelter, for example, and be turned away or otherwise treated abusively.
Jennifer C. Pizer, director of law and policy at the civil rights organization Lambda Legal, released a statement in an email this week calling the new rules a "400-page monstrosity."
Pizer wrote, "In these final days of this administration, as we enter the winter months in the grip of an unchecked devastating pandemic, the Trump/Pence team is accelerating its commitment to elevating ultra-conservative religious interests above everyone else's basic rights."
Pizer wrote in a separate email that Lambda Legal is concerned about rural LGBTQ people and LGBTQ people in under-resourced communities, who need mental health services, emergency housing, and nutrition support. For these individuals, there may be only one federally funded provider available.
"And if that provider is a faith-based provider that discriminates against LGBTQ people, that mistreatment tends to drive people away from the services they need to recover and that we, the taxpayers, are funding them to receive. When the government chooses a faith-based agency to receive the contract to serve a rural or otherwise under-resourced area, it can create problems for members of the public who don't have options," Pizer said.
"And if that agency infuses their services with religion and no longer has a duty to provide referrals, people who are made to feel unwelcome or bad in other ways will not be receiving the treatment that is appropriate in federally funded programs."
The Trump administration has found other ways to assault LGBTQ rights in its final few weeks.
Earlier this month, the Department of Labor issued a final rule that gives employers wiggle room to discriminate against LGBTQ workers, creating broader exceptions for federal contractors who want religious exemptions in areas such as hiring.
The Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security also published a final rule on Friday on changes in the criteria for granting asylum such that it will be harder for LGBTQ people to have asylum claims granted.
Advocates for the rights of LGBTQ asylum-seekers say that the rule narrows definitions of persecution even further and ignores the many ways anti-LGBTQ persecution is manifested.
The organization GLAAD, which is keeping a running tally of Trump administration attacks on the LGBTQ community, lists 181 of them as of this writing.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.