Earlier this week, according to a statement by several progressive groups*, President Donald Trump appointed Roger Severino, a leading anti-LGBT activist, to lead the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights. In doing so, Trump potentially gives Severino an opportunity to dismantle civil rights protections he criticized as a staffer at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Although Severino apparently was appointed without a formal announcement, his bio page at Heritage now states that he “is no longer a staff member at The Heritage Foundation.”
In 2016, for example, Severino co-authored a Heritage report criticizing proposed Obama administration rules preventing discrimination against transgender patients within the health care system. Protecting trans people against such discrimination, Severino warned, would “penalize medical professionals and health care organizations that, as a matter of faith, moral conviction, or professional medical judgment, believe that maleness and femaleness are biological realities to be respected and affirmed, not altered or treated as diseases.”
Similarly, in 2007, Severino published a law review article entitled “Or for Poorer? How Same-Sex Marriage Threatens Religious Liberty,” where he claimed that marriage equality would lead to “both government compulsion of religious institutions to provide financial or other support for same‐sex married couples and government withdrawal of public benefits from those institutions that oppose same‐sex marriage.”
As the head of the HHS civil rights office, Severino will not only be able to push from within the department to dismantle existing protections for LGBT Americans, he could also potentially push for special rights for anti-LGBT employers and health providers — such as regulations explicitly permitting these employers and providers to engage in discrimination if they believe that their faith requires them to do so.