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LGBTQ advocates sue Trump administration over rollback of nondiscrimination protections

LGBTQ advocates sue Trump administration over rollback of nondiscrimination protections

The Trump administration doesn't have the authority to allow health providers to discriminate against LGBTQ patients, according to a lawsuit filed by advocacy groups seeking to block a new rule from taking effect.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and the plaintiffs include the Whitman-Walker Clinic and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, along with individual LGBTQ physicians, provider groups and LGBTQ organizations.

"A person’s access to health care should not be contingent on their sex, gender identity, transgender status, sexual orientation, race, national origin, age, disability, or religion," the complaint said. 

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"Yet, in the midst of a global pandemic, the Trump Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services has sought to diminish protections from discrimination in health care," it added.

The lawsuit seeks to block the administration's rule that scrapped the Affordable Care Act's nondiscrimination protections for sex and gender identity. 

The filing comes a week after the Supreme Court ruled in 6-3 decision that employers are prohibited from firing or discriminating against employees who are gay or transgender. 

While unrelated to the administration's health care rule, the groups argue that the Supreme Court's definition of "sex discrimination" applies to health care as well, and they are confident that the courts will support that argument.

"For years, the Trump administration has utilized [Department of Health and Human Services] as a weapon to target and hurt vulnerable communities who already experience alarming rates of discrimination when seeking care, even now, during a global pandemic," said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney and health care strategist for Lambda Legal, which is one of the groups representing the plaintiffs.  

"Their actions are wrong, callous, immoral and legally indefensible. We will fight back,” he said.

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Under the final policy issued June 12, the administration said sex discrimination applied only if someone was discriminated against for being biologically male or biologically female. 

However, the Supreme Court ruled just a week later that “it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”

The rule being challenged addresses protections based on Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which established that it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of "race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in certain health programs and activities."

A 2016 rule defined "sex" as "male, female, neither, or a combination of male and female" and made it illegal for doctors, hospitals and other health care workers to deny care because they disapproved of someone's gender identity.

The Trump administration said the government's interpretation of sex discrimination will be based on "the plain meaning of the word 'sex' as male or female and as determined by biology."

Advocates and Democratic lawmakers said the decision to move ahead with the rule while the country is still in the middle of a pandemic is especially cruel. The concern is that LGBTQ patients might not be able to access the care they need.

The lawsuit argues that the final rule eliminating nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ patients "introduces substantial confusion among health care providers and insurers regarding their legal obligations and the right of the populations they serve to be free from discrimination."