Senators Sign Letter Urging HHS to Stop Easing Health Care Protections for LGBTQ Community

Thirty Senate Democrats and one Independent have signed a letter to the Trump administration urging them to roll back a rule that empowers healthcare professionals who refuse to treat LGBTQ people during the coronavirus pandemic.

The rule in question is a rollback on Obama-era protections against discrimination based on sex and gender identity. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) moved forward with rewriting this rule to contend that protections based on sex do not extend to the transgender community.

Led by Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the Democrats along with Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have called on HHS Secretary Alex Azar to stop attempting to remove these protections and effectively legalize anti-transgender discrimination in health care settings.

“While these policy changes would be harmful at any time, finalizing this proposed rule during the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will reduce vulnerable communities’ access to health care services in the middle of a global health emergency,” the letter reads.  “…The sudden uptick in at-home deaths in COVID-19 hot spots indicates how dangerous it can be for people with severe cases of COVID-19 to delay seeking care. If HHS finalizes this proposed rule, members of the LGBTQ community suffering from COVID-19—especially people who are transgender, gender nonbinary, and gender nonconforming—may face significant barriers to timely care.”

Other proposed changes the letter urges Azar to oppose include those that would limit protections for women, people who don’t speak English well, and those with disabilities.

LGBTQ organization Family Equality praised the representatives behind the letter.

“We are grateful to Sens. Menendez and Murray and all of the signatories for drawing attention to the dangers this rule poses to our families,” Denise Bogan-Kator of Family Equality said in a press release, “and for pressing HHS to not take any steps that would limit access to health care at this critical time.”