House and Senate Democrats, civil rights advocates and groups against HIV/AIDS were among those who voiced their objections this week to a Trump administration proposal that would allow recipients of federal grants, including taxpayer-funded adoption agencies, to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
The opponents of the proposed rule change, which would abolish LGBTQ non-discrimination requirements implemented during the final month of the Obama administration in December 2016, submitted their comments to the Department of Health & Human Services as part of the rule-making process.
All 47 members of the Senate Democratic caucus — including those from conservative states like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) — signed on to the letter organized by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) against the proposal.
“This is yet another step in the Trump administration’s efforts to erode civil rights protections and leave millions of people across the country again subject to discrimination,” the senators wrote. “Taken together, these actions leave vulnerable populations unable to access the services they need. We strongly urge the Department to enforce existing federal non-discrimination regulations that protect against discrimination based on sex and religion and rescind this proposed rule.”
HHS unveiled the proposed rule change in November under pressure from conservative groups, including Catholic adoption agencies who say placing children into LGBTQ homes violates their religious beliefs. Vice President Mike Pence said in remarks last month Trump himself gave the order to implement the change.
An estimated 430,000 children are in the foster care system and an estimated 125,000 of them are eligible for adoption.
But the proposal has far-reaching implications. It would not only allow adoption agencies to turn away LGBTQ people, but also allow federal grant recipients to deny them other services, including shelter and medical care.
A quintet of HIV/AIDS groups — AIDS United, National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors, the National Minority AIDS Council, the National Coalition of STD Directors and the AIDS Institute — expressed concern the proposed rule could hamper medical treatment, including the implementation of Trump’s own plan to beat the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.
“We have the tools to end the epidemic, but rules that codify stigma and discrimination against LGBTQ individuals would be a significant step backwards in the fight against HIV,” the groups write.
Because the Obama-era regulation also prohibited discrimination on the basis of religion and sex, critics also say the Trump administration proposal could lead to discrimination against religious minorities and women.
In a separate letter led by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), one of the seven openly gay members of Congress, 72 House and Senate appropriators in Congress say the proposal amounts to “opening the door to many types of taxpayer-funded discrimination by HHS grant recipients.”
“It is easy to imagine myriad ways HHS grantees could discriminate under this new rule,” the appropriators write. “Grantees could decline to provide HIV care to an LGBT person on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Grantees could refuse services to single or unmarried parents. Grantees could force a transgender child to undergo ‘conversion therapy’ in order to access their services.”
Proponents of the rule change submitted comments as well. Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal firm, said in its response the Trump administration proposal would “allow qualified agencies, both secular and faith-based, to compete for federal grants on an equal footing.”
Zack Pruitt, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement the rule change is necessary because “every child deserves a chance to be raised in a loving home.”
“Unfortunately, the previous regulation — finalized in the 11th hour of the Obama Administration — failed to protect all providers and discriminated against faith-based providers simply because of their beliefs about marriage,” Pruitt said. “That is not keeping kids first. HHS’s proposed rule to end this discrimination offers hope for children, more options for birth parents, support for families and increased flexibility for states seeking to alleviate real human need.”
Also submitting a comment in opposition to the proposed rule change was a coalition of Muslim groups: Muslim Advocates, American Muslim Health Professionals, Islamic Circle of North America Council for Social Justice and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Nimra Azmi, staff attorney for Muslim Advocates, said in a statement the proposed change “guts anti-discrimination protections enacted in 2016 and gives organizations that accept taxpayer dollars a green light to discriminate against Muslim parents and children.”
“Allowing an adoption agency or a foster care service to reject people because of their religion, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity will seriously harm families and children,” Azmi said. “If adopted, this proposed rule will undercut the core principles of religious liberty and anti-discrimination — which disturbingly appears to be the intention of HHS.”
The Washington Blade has placed a request in with HHS seeking comment seeking information on the number of comments obtained, the next steps in the process and when a final rule will be issued.