The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s (HHS) mission is to protect the health of all Americans. The department, which has 11 divisions, will be receiving $99.4 billion dollars in funding in the upcoming fiscal year (2020). But a proposed new rule for the department begs the question: does the HSS really protect all Americans? This new rule, proposed by the Trump administration, would eliminate protections for LGBTQ+ people against discrimnation in all of HHS’s services. The rule would roll back an Obama-era regulation that protected all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, effectively allowing LGBTQ+ individuals to be turned away from HHS services simply because of who they are.
HHS-funded services include foster care, adoption, pre-kindergarten services, health education, HIV and STI prevention, elderly care, and more. These services are vital to the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ youth are overrepresented in foster care services, meaning that there are more LGBTQ+ youth in foster care services than in the general public. According to the Humans Rights Campaign, 13.6% of children in foster care identify as LGBTQ+ compared to 7.2% of youth in the general population.The poverty rate for the LGBTQ+ community is 21.6% versus 15.7% for cisgender straight people, meaning that the LGBTQ+ community disproportionately relies on federal assistance.
The justification given by HHS Secretary Alex Azar for the proposed rule: religious freedom. Faith-based programs in many states argue that working with LGBTQ+ individuals is a violation of their beliefs. But freedom of religion should not and does not equal barring the LGBTQ+ community from federal services that everyone is entitled to. This new rule is wrongfully twisting the first amendment to promote discrimination and hate.
This debate should not be one about religious freedom. This debate is truly centered around one question: can government-funded services refuse services based on factors a person cannot control? The answer should be obvious- no.
A child shouldn’t be denied a life-saving spot in a foster home because of their gender or which gender(s) they are attracted to. Prospective parents shouldn’t be turned away from adopting a child because of something that does not affect their capability to parent. Being part of the LGBTQ+ community is not a choice and it should not determine whether someone should get federal assistance.
Roughly 11.3 million people in the US are part of the LGBTQ+ community. This proposed rule means that the HHS is failing these 11.3 million people. The implementation of this rule would mean that the HHS would not fulfill its mission of protecting all Americans.