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LGBTQ groups sue to block rollback of federal transgender health care protections

Transgender flags flew during a protest outside the White House in 2018.
Transgender flags flew during a protest outside the White House in 2018.NYT

A coalition of local and national health care providers and LGBTQ rights organizations filed a federal lawsuit in Boston Thursday seeking to block a rule rescinding sex discrimination protections for transgender people in medical care.

Fenway Health; the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth; and other groups are suing the US Department of Health and Human Services, and have asked the US District Court to set aside the regulation and declare it unconstitutional, according to court documents.

The Trump administration finalized the rule in June, saying it would enforce federal sex discrimination protections “according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology.”

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A regulation introduced in 2016 as part of the Affordable Care Act had considered gender a matter of personal identity rather than anatomy.

The Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.

In a statement, Fenway Health’s chief executive, Ellen LaPointe, said that it’s “unconscionable that the Trump administration would” make it more difficult for LGBTQ Americans to access health care.

“That they are doing so in the midst of a global COVID-19 pandemic that has already claimed the lives of more than 130,000 U.S. residents, put 14 million people out of work, and exacerbated significant racial and ethnic disparities in access to healthcare and health outcomes only serves to magnify the heartlessness of this unlawful action,” LaPointe said.

In a 96-page court filing, the LGBTQ advocates pointed out that the Trump administration rolled back health care protections during a global coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 130,000 Americans. The plaintiffs added that many have lost their jobs during the pandemic, and thus their employer-sponsored health insurance, making access to care especially precarious.

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They pointed to research showing that transgender adults are more likely than other groups to have underlying health conditions that make them vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Trans people also have reported “being verbally and physically harassed, denied coverage of transgender-related care, and denied care for sex-specific services such as mammograms or screenings for urinary tract infections,” they said in the document.

The LGBTQ groups also cited the US Supreme Court decision last month affirming that federal protections against discrimination in the workplace based on sex apply to discrimination against gay and trans employees, suggesting that the ruling has already invalidated the new policy.

“The Rollback Rule and its accompanying preamble do not acknowledge the Supreme Court’s ruling, much less grapple with how its rule could stand after it,” they argued in the filing.

Opponents to the new regulation include a number of notable medical professional groups, such as the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, according to the filing.


The plaintiffs argued that the new regulation “bears all the hallmarks of an unlawful agency action. … It rescinds protections that the Department itself had found were necessary to address pervasive discrimination in the healthcare system just four years earlier, without offering any reasoned basis for doing so or responding to comments explaining why it should not do so.”




Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.