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Joe Kennedy III, LGBTQ group rip Trump administration proposal on transgender protections

Representative Joe Kennedy III.Joy Asico/Associated Press/File 2019/FR171538 AP via AP

Congressman Joe Kennedy III, a Newton Democrat, on Friday slammed a Trump administration proposal targeting discrimination protections for transgender people in health care.

“Allowing discrimination and hatred to enter our exam rooms was a vestige of our dark past when patients could be denied care simply because of who they are,” Kennedy said in a statement. “By attempting to overturn the Health Care Rights Law, the Trump Administration is spreading fear and confusion across our health care system and putting the lives of transgender Americans at risk.”

Kennedy added, “We must be very clear about one thing: this rule changes nothing for any trans patient and denying them care remains illegal today. Despite the intolerance and hatred perpetrated by President Trump and Vice President Pence, every trans American should know that they are seen, they are heard, and we are fighting with them.”


Kennedy’s words were echoed by the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group based in Washington.

“The Trump-Pence administration’s latest attack threatens to undermine crucial non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people provided for under the Affordable Care Act,” said David Stacy, the group’s government affairs director, in a statement. “The administration puts LGBTQ people at greater risk of being denied necessary and appropriate health care solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In the proposed rule issued Friday, the Health and Human Services Department says laws banning sex discrimination in health care don’t apply to people’s ‘‘gender identity.’’ LGBTQ groups have long warned such a move could lead to denial of needed medical care.

The proposal would reverse the policy of the Obama administration, which found that sex discrimination laws do protect transgender people. It faces a 60-day comment period and court challenges are expected.

Under the Obama rule, a hospital could be required to perform gender-transition procedures such as hysterectomies if the facility provided that kind of treatment for other medical conditions. The rule was meant to carry out the antidiscrimination section of the Affordable Care Act, which bars sex discrimination in health care but does not use the term ‘‘gender identity.’’


On Friday, Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, defended the Trump administration’s proposed rule change.

“When Congress prohibited sex discrimination, it did so according to the plain meaning of the term, and we are making our regulations conform,” Severino said in a statement. “The American people want vigorous protection of civil rights and faithfulness to the text of the laws passed by their representatives. The proposed rule would accomplish both goals.”

In 2016, an article coauthored by Severino was posted to the website of the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, where Severino at the time worked, slamming the Obama-era transgender protections.

“By prohibiting differential treatment on the basis of ‘gender identity’ in health services, these regulations propose to penalize medical professionals and health care organizations that, as a matter of faith, moral conviction, or professional medical judgment, believe that maleness and femaleness are biological realities to be respected and affirmed, not altered or treated as diseases,” said the article from Severino, a Harvard Law graduate, and his coauthor.

But on Friday, the Human Rights Campaign said the protections currently in place for transgender patients are vital to safeguarding their civil rights.


“This landmark provision is the first of its kind to include protections from discrimination on the basis of sex in the context of healthcare,” the campaign said in a statement. “The definition of ‘sex’ has been consistently interpreted by numerous federal courts and agencies — including HHS — to include discrimination on the basis of sex stereotyping and gender identity.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, fear “of discrimination causes many LGBTQ people to avoid seeking healthcare, and when they do enter care, studies indicate that LGBTQ people are not consistently treated with the respect that all patients deserve. . . . Delay and avoidance of care due to fear of discrimination compounds the significant health disparities experienced by LGBTQ people.”

Also Friday, the American Medical Association reacted cautiously to the Trump administration’s proposal.

“The American Medical Association is assessing the full impact of the newly released regulatory proposal to remove anti-discrimination protections related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and termination of pregnancy across a wide variety of health care programs and insurance plans,” said Dr. Patrice A. Harris, the group’s president-elect, in a statement.

Harris said her association “strongly believes that discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. Similarly, the AMA does not condone discrimination based on whether a woman has had an abortion.”

In addition, Harris called respect for patient diversity “a fundamental value of the medical profession and reflected in long-standing AMA ethical policy opposing discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, or termination thereof. We are reviewing the breadth of the proposed rule, which encompasses and intertwines many separate laws. After a full assessment, the AMA will submit comments emphasizing that medicine is a healing profession.”


Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.