BOSTON — Today, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), the Transgender Law Center (TLC), the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) of Harvard Law School and law firm Hogan Lovells filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on behalf of Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, and additional plaintiffs, challenging the Trump-Pence administration’s rule, published June 19, 2020, that undermines the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) non-discrimination protections which prohibit discrimination in health care on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, and sex — including pregnancy, gender identity and sex stereotyping.
In addition to Equality California, co-plaintiffs include Darren Lazor, The Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth (BAGLY), Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Campaign for Southern Equality, Equality California, Fenway Health, and Transgender Emergency Fund. Lazor, 35, is a transgender man near Cleveland, Ohio, who experienced numerous counts of discrimination from healthcare providers on the basis of his gender identity from 2012 to 2017. He is a member of Equality California.
The lawsuit asserts that the new rule violates the Administrative Procedures Act by being contrary to law and arbitrary and capricious. Notably, it was published on June 19, just days after the June 15, 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that it is unlawful sex discrimination to fire employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The lawsuit also asserts that the new rule will embolden discrimination and harm LGBTQ+ patients and people seeking reproductive health care, further stigmatize abortion and other pregnancy-related care, harm patients with limited-English proficiency, especially immigrants, and harm people with chronic illnesses, including those living with HIV. The rule will also create confusion about the scope of protections against discrimination under federal law.
The rule was issued amid a global pandemic, unprecedented national unemployment with people losing access to health insurance, an epidemic of police violence against Black people and a crisis of violence against Black trans people. In the last two weeks alone, six Black trans women have been found dead: Brayla Stone in Little Rock, AR, Merci Mack in Dallas, TX, Shaki Peters in Amite City, LA, Draya McCarty in Baton Rouge, LA, Tatiana Hall in Philadelphia, PA, and Bree Black in Pompano Beach, FL.
Trans people, like plaintiff Darren Lazor, already face disproportionate discrimination in health care settings, including mistreatment by insurers and humiliation and harassment by doctors – problems that are exacerbated for Black and Latinx trans people, and trans people living in rural regions and the U.S. South. In seeking to deny trans people access to the healthcare they need, the Trump Administration is putting trans people, and especially Black trans women, in danger through deliberately harmful governmental action.
“I have experienced feeling like a doctor doesn’t care if I live or die — which is just shameful,” said Lazor. “No one should be denied life-saving health care or be discriminated against the way I have simply because of who they are. I hope that sharing my story can help others understand that transgender people are who we are, and we deserve to be treated fairly under the law.”
“Ripping healthcare away from millions of Americans is wrong; to do so in the middle of a global health crisis is just plain evil,” said Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur. “As long as President Trump keeps attacking transgender people like Darren and other LGBTQ+ Equality California members simply because of who they are, we’ll keep fighting the Administration in court.”
“The Trump-Pence administration has again shown us that there is no limit to their quest to allow discrimination in health care. This illegal rule puts the lives of women, LGBTQA+ individuals, those with limited English proficiency and the tens of thousands who live at the intersection of these identities at risk,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of NWLC. “We refuse to accept this dangerous rule, especially when our country has already lost thousands of lives due to a global pandemic. We join our communities, plaintiffs and partners in court reaffirming that no one should fear being turned away by a health provider or denied coverage or care because of who they are.”
“The rule will embolden discrimination in health care and make it more difficult for patients—particularly transgender people and women—to access the care and insurance coverage they need,” said Kirti Datla, senior associate at Hogan Lovells. “We represent a broad group of plaintiffs whose experiences make clear just how devastating the effects of this action will be. Working alongside partner organizations, we hope to quickly secure a ruling that the rollback is unlawful several times over, and that no person should be denied health care due to discrimination.”
“The abhorrent changes by HHS are yet another illegal attempt by the current administration to further endanger the lives of transgender people, especially Black transgender women who face the greatest challenges with accessing health care,” said Andy Marra, Executive Director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. “Today, with our partners and plaintiffs, TLDEF is challenging these regulations to ensure that explicit health care protections for transgender people remain intact, especially during a pandemic that is placing the lives of those most pushed to the margins at severe risk. We look forward to seeing HHS in court.”
“The Affordable Care Act has helped transgender people, people living with HIV, people with limited English proficiency, and others access equitable health care and coverage,” said Kevin Costello, Litigation Director for the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation. “We cannot allow this Administration to roll back protections and sanction discriminatory practices. We are committed to holding HHS accountable to Supreme Court precedent and federal law, and to ensuring that the ACA’s civil rights provisions are available to all.”
“Trans people should be able to seek medical care when we need help without being turned away or denied treatment because of who we are or where we live,” said Dale Melchert, Staff Attorney at the Transgender Law Center. “This dangerous and intentional move by the Trump Administration contradicts federal law while putting the lives of trans people in jeopardy – especially trans people living with HIV, Black trans people and people of color, trans people with disabilities, and trans people living in rural areas and in Southern states.”
“Transgender people, especially those living in Southern states, face significant barriers to accessing the health care they need and deserve; we hear stories from our members all across the South of delaying care because of these challenges or of driving for hours to see an affirming provider,” said Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. “Now that the Trump Administration has undercut critical protections from the Affordable Care Act, transgender Southerners will be additionally vulnerable to being turned away from care altogether – in the midst of a pandemic, no less. As a plaintiff in this lawsuit, we’re honored to stand with organizations across the country asking the court to restore these protections.
“It is unconscionable that the Trump Administration would purposefully make it harder for LGBTQIA+ people to access essential health care and health insurance,” said Fenway Health CEO Ellen LaPointe. “That they would do so in the midst of a global 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. Fenway Health is compelled and proud to take a stand on behalf of some of the most marginalized and at-risk members of our community, advancing a core principle at the heart of our mission – that all people deserve access to care, and that LGBTQIA+ people are entitled to the same rights as all others in our society.”
“In our over 50 year history providing care to LGBTQ+ communities, we have fought hard for equal rights and equal protections for transgender and non-binary people. Healthcare is a human right – and this rule is designed to deny that right,” said Wendy Stark, Executive Director, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center.
Equality California is the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization. We bring the voices of LGBTQ people and allies to institutions of power in California and across the United States, striving to create a world that is healthy, just, and fully equal for all LGBTQ people. We advance civil rights and social justice by inspiring, advocating and mobilizing through an inclusive movement that works tirelessly on behalf of those we serve. www.eqca.org