LGBTQ+ rights advocates celebrated after a federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked part of a Trump administration healthcare rule that would scrap Obama-era non-discrimination protections for transgender patients, which was supposed to take effect Tuesday.
"LGBTQ Americans deserve the healthcare that they need without fear of mistreatment, harassment, or humiliation."
—Alphonso David, HRC
The legal victory was "a step in the right direction," Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Alphonso David said in a statement, vowing that his organization "will continue to fight the administration's attempts to dehumanize and stigmatize the LGBTQ community."
"This failed attempt to callously strip away non-discrimination healthcare protections" with a rule that "should be permanently tossed out," David added, "is merely the latest in a long line of attacks against the transgender community" from the administration of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
#Breaking: Court blocks Trump’s attempt to gut trans protections in health care. Huge win! This ruling affirms what we all know: discrimination is wrong, especially in health care where life-or-death matters are on the line. https://t.co/4VbWlkKbTA
— National Center for Transgender Equality (@TransEquality) August 18, 2020
The rule, finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in June, would roll back the Obama-era definition of discrimination on the basis of sex under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Critics warned the rule would embolden discrimination against transgender patients and others seeking care.
Federal District Court Judge Frederic Block of the Eastern District of New York issued a preliminary injunction (pdf) preventing enforcement of the HHS rule during litigation challenging it. Block found the rule contradicts a U.S. Supreme Court decision that came in June, just days after the rule was finalized.
In what advocates hailed as a "huge victory for LGBTQ equality," the high court found that federal protections against job discrimination on the basis of sex make it illegal for employers to fire workers because of their transgender status or their sexual orientation.
"When the Supreme Court announces a major decision, it seems a sensible thing to pause and reflect on the decision's impact," Block wrote, referencing that ruling. "Since HHS has been unwilling to take that path voluntarily, the court now imposes it."
Block's decision came in a case filed by HRC and and Baker Hostetler on behalf of Tanya Asapansa-Johnson Walker and Cecilia Gentili, who are both transgender women of color.
Judge Blocks Trump Officials’ Attempt to End Transgender Health Protections https://t.co/HYeBFEhIqX
— Cecilia Gentili (@CeciliaGentili) August 18, 2020
"This is a crucial early victory for our plaintiffs, Tanya and Cecilia, and for the entire LGBTQ community, particularly those who are multiply marginalized and suffering disproportionately from the impacts of the twin pandemics of Covid-19 and racialized violence," David said of the judge's injunction.
"We are pleased the court recognized this irrational rule for what it is: discrimination, plain and simple," he added. "LGBTQ Americans deserve the healthcare that they need without fear of mistreatment, harassment, or humiliation."
Protections from trans healthcare discrimination are being defended, the implementation of the administration's rule has been deferred
We owe thanks, as always, to trans WOC sticking up for us all, thank you Tanya Asapansa-Johnson Walker & Cecilia Gentilihttps://t.co/ElMzpMG5L2
— Ellena Popova (@EllenaPopova) August 18, 2020
Block's decision notably does not address other provisions of the HHS rule, "including its elimination of the prohibition on categorical exclusions, elimination of language access protections for people with limited English proficiency, and incorporation of religious exemptions," explained Lambda Legal, which is also challenging the regulation.
Despite the limitations of Block's decision, Lambda Legal senior attorney and healthcare strategist Omar Gonzalez-Pagan welcomed the injunction, and congratulated Walker, Gentili, HRC, and their co-counsel "on this important victory in the fight against the Trump administration's failed public health policy."
"We look forward to a decision in our case challenging the healthcare discrimination rule," Gonzalez-Pagan said. "The safety and lives of LGBTQ people, but especially transgender people, hang in the balance."
"HHS's healthcare discrimination rule threatens to wreak havoc and confusion, hurting our most vulnerable populations, who already are suffering disproportionately at the hands of the Covid-19 pandemic."
—Carl Charles, Lambda LegalLike HRC's David, Lambda Legal staff attorney Carl Charles pointed out that "LGBTQ people, particularly transgender people, have been under constant attack by the Trump administration."
"HHS's healthcare discrimination rule threatens to wreak havoc and confusion, hurting our most vulnerable populations, who already are suffering disproportionately at the hands of the Covid-19 pandemic," Charles added. "Our communities deserve better."
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who later this week is expected to accept the Democratic Party's presidential nomination to face off against Trump in November, also welcomed Block's decision in a tweet Tuesday morning.
"A good step forward. Yet President Trump continues to do everything he can to dismantle the Affordable Care Act," Biden wrote. "I will defend the rights of all Americans to have access to quality, affordable healthcare, free from discrimination."