Court Removes Rule that Eliminated Discrimination Protections

In response to a lawsuit filed by a foster youth and alumni group as well as LGBTQ service and advocacy organizations, a court has remanded and vacated a Trump-era policy permitting taxpayer-funded discrimination against people who receive services from HHS grant programs.

A federal district court on Wednesday rescinded a discriminatory Trump-era rule that prohibited the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from requiring that service providers in its $500 billion federal grants program not discriminate based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and other characteristics when providing HHS grant-funded services. Democracy Forward and Lambda Legal, along with pro bono co-counsel Cravath, Swaine, and Moore, LLP, filed a lawsuit challenging the rule in February 2021 on behalf of Facing Foster Care in Alaska, Family Equality, True Colors United, and SAGE. Wednesday’s order rescinds the rule completely and restores protections in the 2016 Rule.

Just over a week before it left power, the Trump administration finalized an unlawful rule that scrapped nondiscrimination protections, including an important clarification recognizing the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decisions. The Trump administration’s rollback of these protections left beneficiaries of and participants in federally funded programs vulnerable to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. In February of 2021, HHS agreed to a court order that immediately stayed the effective date of the rule.

Vulnerable and traditionally marginalized populations — such as children in foster care, older adults, youth experiencing homelessness, and families navigating the child welfare system — have been and, under this Rule, would have been subject to discriminatory practices from taxpayer-funded service providers and programs. Such discrimination harms beneficiaries, imposes additional barriers to service, causes significant economic costs, undermines HHS’s mission to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans, and will lead to worse outcomes in HHS programs.

​“We are thrilled that the court has removed the continuing threat the presence of the discriminatory Trump-era rule posed to some of the most vulnerable members of society, including LGBTQ+ children, seniors, and people with low income, who rely on federally funded programs to meet their basic needs. Beneficiaries and participants in HHS-funded programs should have the basic expectation that they can access all services and care and do so without facing harm.” said Currey Cook, Senior Counsel and Youth in Out-Of-Home Care Project Director at Lambda Legal. “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 comment by the public is meaningfully considered.”

“There was simply no excuse for the Trump administration’s unlawful policy sanctioning taxpayer-funded discrimination against people who receive services from HHS grant programs, including youth and families in the child welfare system, youth experiencing homelessness and older adults, among other vulnerable populations,” said KristenMiller,SeniorCounsel at Democracy Forward. “While today's victory is a step in the right direction, the Trump-era decision not to enforce the lawful 2016 rule has not yet been reversed. Lambda Legal and Democracy Forward will continue to challenge the non-enforcement policy until all persons receive the protections of the law."

Read more about the case: Facing Foster Care in Alaska v. HHS

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