Service providers receiving HHS grants cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, court rules – The Hill


The story at a glance

  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) may require service providers in its federal grant program not to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or other characteristics , a court heard this week.

  • The decision is the result of a lawsuit filed on behalf of social welfare groups alleging that revisions to the HHS grant rule under former President Trump exposed vulnerable populations to “unlawful discrimination.”

  • Under the Trump administration’s revised rule, entities such as faith-based hospitality groups receiving federal grants could obtain waivers allowing them to circumvent anti-discrimination protections.

A federal district court on Wednesday struck down a Trump-era rule that had prevented the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from requiring service providers in its federal grant program not to discriminate on the basis of on sexual orientation, gender identity or other characteristics.

The decision stems from a lawsuit filed last year by Lambda Legal, the nonprofit Democracy Forward, and the law firm Cravath, Swaine and Moore, LLP on behalf of a group of plaintiffs including families of reception and organizations of young homeless people.

In a complaint filed last February, Facing Foster Care in Alaska (FFCA), Family Equality, True Colors United and Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) alleged that revisions made to the HHS grant rule shortly before the departure of former President Trump in 2021 left vulnerable members of society “exposed to unlawful discrimination.”

ABOUT a week before President Biden’s inauguration, the Trump administration finalized a rule removing protections crafted under former President Obama in 2016 that prohibited discrimination based on “age, disability, gender, race , color, national origin, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

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Under the revised ruleentities such as faith-based foster groups receiving grants from HHS could benefit from waivers allowing them to circumvent non-discrimination provisions protecting same-sex or non-Christian couples.

“The Department believes that when faith-based organizations are permitted to participate in accordance with their religious beliefs, there is greater availability of foster and adoption services and placements, HHS wrote in the rule of 2021.

The department at the end of last year overturned Trump-era politics, arguing that the derogations are incompatible with its “essential objective of combating discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation and gender identity”. HHS said it would return to its long-standing practice of evaluating requests for religious exemptions, waivers and changes to program requirements on a case-by-case basis.

This week, U.S. District Judge Jia M. Cobb officially closed the case.

“Recipients and participants of HHS-funded programs should expect to be able to access all services and care and do so without harm,” said Currey Cook, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, said in a press release. “This week, the court took an important step on the heels of HHS’s acknowledgment of a flawed process that violated important procedural safeguards ensuring that public input is given due consideration.”

Kristen Miller, senior counsel at Democracy Forward, said the old policy sanctioned “taxpayer-funded discrimination” against people receiving care under HHS grant programs. She added that more work was needed to ensure the Trump-era decision not to enforce the 2016 rule is completely reversed.

“Lambda Legal and Democracy Forward will continue to challenge the non-enforcement policy until all people receive the protections of the law,” Miller said.

Posted Jul 06, 2022


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