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Lambda Legal and Democracy Forward filed a lawsuit on behalf of three organizations serving vulnerable populations — Family Equality, True Colors United, and SAGE — against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for its unlawful November 2019 announcement that it would stop enforcing anti-discrimination protections against federal grantees that deny services to, or otherwise discriminate against, individuals. The administration’s unlawful action endangers already vulnerable populations, especially as the country confronts the coronavirus pandemic.

LGBTQ individuals of all ages are left vulnerable by the Trump administration’s illegal action, which implicitly permits discrimination when providing critical services. This unlawful federal abandonment of the LGBTQ community is particularly dangerous now, and could have catastrophic, even deadly consequences. This license to discriminate could facilitate denial of services, such as home-delivered meals, access to shelters, and fostering a homeless child.

Now, because of the Trump administration’s decision to no longer enforce these non-discrimination protections:

  • Students experiencing homelessness are susceptible to discrimination as they seek shelter through HHS’ Runaway and Homeless Program, at a time when colleges and universities have shut down housingto help halt the spread of COVID-19.
  • Federally funded foster care agencies can refuse to place children with families because of a prospective host family’s sexual orientation or gender identity, limiting the pool of potential homes for kids who need them.
  • Child welfare agencies and homelessness service providers can engage in abusive and discriminatory practices, including verbal and physical abuse, conversion therapy, and forcing LGBTQ youth to accept services that deny their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • A federally funded adult daycare provider could put a sign on the door saying, “No Trans People May Enter.”
  • Entities administering falls prevention grants could choose to serve only straight people at risk of falling.
  • LGBTQ older adults are now vulnerable to providers that subject them to harassment or refuse to offer services, such as home delivered meals, on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, at a time when senior centers are shutting down in major metropolitan centers to help combat the spread of COVID-19.

Access to HHS-funded, grantee-provided services, such as home delivered meals and emergency shelters, are a high priority for LGBTQ people, many of whom may be at heightened risk for COVID-19. The Trump administration’s unlawful refusal to uphold nondiscrimination rules, and its systemic abandonment of civil rights protections, puts these at-risk communities in greater danger.

HHS administers approximately $500 billion in federal grants. Following the landmark Supreme Court rulings in U.S. v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges, HHS aligned its regulations to explicitly protect the constitutional rights of LGBTQ people and to prohibit discrimination in HHS grant-funded programs. In November 2019, HHS proposed new rules to weaken the non-discrimination protections in a broad range of HHS-funded programs. Simultaneously, HHS announced that it would no longer enforce its current anti-discrimination protections that govern HHS grants. This lawsuit charges that HHS violated the law by not providing the public any notice or an opportunity to comment on its refusal to uphold nondiscrimination rules.