The Slatest

Trump Administration Nixes Transgender Health Protections in Middle of Pride Month

A person holds a transgender pride flag as people gather on Christopher Street outside the Stonewall Inn for a rally to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, June 28, 2019.
A person holds a transgender pride flag as people gather on Christopher Street outside the Stonewall Inn for a rally to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, June 28, 2019. ANGELA WEISS/Getty Images

The Trump administration has officially gotten rid of a policy instituted during Barack Obama’s presidency that protected transgender people against sex discrimination in health care. The move, which is part of a broad effort to roll back protections against transgender people, was finalized in the middle of Pride Month and on the fourth anniversary of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The change, which had long been a demand from some of President Donald Trump’s supporters, marks the latest effort by his administration to appeal to his religious base at a time when many cities around the country have erupted in protest against racism and police violence.

The Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement it would recognize “sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology.” The change implies a shift from the regulation imposed during the Obama administration that provided broad protection against discrimination by any health-related program that receives federal cash. Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, played down the significance of the change, characterizing it as “equivalent to housekeeping.”

Health care groups in general had warned against rolling back the protections, saying it would make it easier for hospitals and health care workers to discriminate against patients due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. Many also criticized the timing of the decision, noting it was made official right in the middle of pride month and on the four-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, that killed 49 people. “These actions demonstrate how little this Administration values the life, health and safety of LGBTQ people,” said Sharita Gruberg of the Center for American Progress. “It’s even more of a disgrace to do so on the anniversary of the deadliest attack on the LGBTQ community in US history.” Severino insisted that the timing was “purely coincidental.”

Transgender rights advocates also were quick to point out that the Trump administration was rolling back protections against discrimination in health care at a time of a global pandemic. “It’s really, really horrendous to not only gut nondiscrimination protections, but to gut nondiscrimination protections in the middle of a pandemic,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “This rule opens a door for a medical provider to turn someone away for a Covid-19 test just because they happen to be transgender.” The Human Rights Campaign vowed to sue the Trump administration: “We will not let this attack on our basic right to be free from discrimination in health care go unchallenged.”

It wasn’t just advocates who focus on LGBTQ issues who critiiczed the decision by the Trump administration. The American Medical Association and several big insurers also expressed opposition to the move. “The federal government should never make it more difficult for individuals to access health care—during a pandemic or any other time,” the American Medical Association said.

Democrats also panned the move, including Joe Biden, who highlighted the timing of the measure. “Donald Trump’s cruelty truly knows no bounds,” the former vice president said. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it “abhorrent” that the Trump administration would strip “away critical health protections” when “there is so much violence against trans people.”