WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump's administration moved Friday to revoke newly won health care discrimination protections for transgender people, the latest in a series of actions that aim to reverse gains by gay and transgender Americans in areas ranging from the military to housing and education.
The Health and Human Services Department released a proposed regulation that in effect says "gender identity" is not protected under federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination in health care. It would reverse a policy from President Barack Obama's administration that the Trump administration already is not enforcing.
"The actions today are part and parcel of this administration's efforts to erase LGBTQ people from federal regulations and to undermine nondiscrimination protections across the board," said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a senior attorney on health care at Lambda Legal, a civil-rights organization representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, said the action shows "utter contempt for the health, safety and humanity of women and transgender Americans."
The administration also has moved to restrict military service by transgender men and women, proposed allowing certain homeless shelters to take gender identity into account in offering someone a bed for the night, and concluded in a 2017 Justice Department memo that federal civil-rights law does not protect transgender people from discrimination at work. As one of her first policy moves, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos withdrew guidance that allowed students to use restrooms matching their gender identity.
More than 1.5 million Americans identify as transgender, according to the Williams Institute, a think tank focusing on gay and transgender policy at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. A bigger number -- 4.5% of the population -- identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to Gallup.
Pushing back against critics, the Health and Human Services official overseeing the proposed new regulation said transgender patients would continue to be protected by other federal laws that bar discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age and disability.
In some places, LGBT people are protected by state laws, said Lambda Legal attorney Gonzalez-Pagan, "but what do you say to people living in a state that doesn't have state-explicit protections? Do they move their home?"
Under the current federal rule, a hospital could be required to perform gender-transition procedures such as hysterectomies if the facility provided that kind of treatment for other medical conditions. The rule was meant to carry out the anti-discrimination section of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which bars sex discrimination in health care but does not use the term "gender identity."
The American Civil Liberties Union served notice it expects to challenge the rule in court when it is final. Louise Melling, ACLU deputy legal director said the potential impact could go beyond gay and transgender people and also subject women to discrimination for having had an abortion.
That's because the proposal would remove "termination of pregnancy" as grounds for making a legal claim of sex discrimination in health care, one of the protections created in the Obama years. Abortion opponents had argued that the Obama regulation could be construed to make a legal argument for federal funding of abortions.
For transgender people, the Trump administration's proposal would reverse the Obama administration, which concluded that the Affordable Care Act's anti-discrimination section does indeed protect them in seeking health care services.
University of California, Los Angeles legal scholar Jocelyn Samuels, who oversaw the drafting of Health and Human Services' transgender anti-discrimination rule under Obama, said that rule reflected established legal precedent that transgender people are protected by federal laws.
"This administration has manifested its intent to roll back that well-considered understanding in every context," she said.
Samuels questioned the timing of the Trump action, since the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear three cases this year looking at whether federal civil-rights law bans job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The proposed rule faces a 60-day comment period and another layer of review before it can be finalized.
Information for this article was contributed by David Crary of The Associated Press.
A Section on 05/25/2019
Print Headline: U.S. aims to rescind transgender policy