LGBTQ advocates are outraged after President Donald Trump appointed Roger Severino, a former director from the right-wing think tank Heritage Foundation, to be the director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services. Severino, a fierce opponent of LGBTQ rights, will now be tasked with overseeing the office that is supposed to guarantee equal access to health care and public benefits programs and protect individuals’ confidential medical information under the nation’s HIPAA laws.
Severino, who formerly served as the director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation, has a well-documented history of opposing the Office of Civil Rights’ implementation of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, age, disability, and sex in federally-funded health programs. Under the Obama administration, Section 1557 was used to protect transgender people from discrimination based on gender identity, something which Severino called an “abuse of power” wielded “to coerce everyone…into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology.”
Severino has also claimed that Section 1557 creates “special privileges” for transgender people and could “force doctors to perform sex-reassignment surgeries” even when they are not deemed medically necessary. He also objected to the Obama administration’s interpretation that the rule prevented people from discriminating based on pregnancy termination, such as denying care to a woman who had previously had an abortion.
Both of those nondiscrimination provisions were challenged in a lawsuit and subsequently halted in December, following a ruling by a federal judge that prevents HHS from enforcing those provisions.
A coalition comprised of the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Center for American Progress, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Health Law Program, the National LGBTQ Task Force, and Out 2 Enroll has denounced Severino’s appointment, calling it “another example of President Trump and [HHS] Secretary [Tom] Price’s increasingly long list of compromised nominees who have alarming conflicts of interest and, now, the opportunity to abuse their power guided by ideology, not law or fact.”
“By appointing Mr. Severino to enforce the life-saving protections that he has made his personal mission to dismantle, the Trump administration has once again put the fox in charge of the hen house,” Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “He has made attacking women’s and LGBT people’s access to health care one of the centerpieces of his career, while his baseless claims about protections for transgender people — repeated over and over without any regard for the consequences on transgender people’s lives — betray a fundamental misunderstanding of federal civil rights laws, medical science, the reality of what it means to be transgender.
“Mr. Severino is now in a position to transform his dangerous rhetoric into action that can inflict serious harm on the lives of millions of Americans,” Keisling added. “We cannot let this happen.”
JoDee Winterhof, the senior vice president of policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that she “could not think of a more dangerous person to head up the Office of Civil Rights at HHS” than Severino.
“Once again, Donald Trump is declaring war against our community by appointing anti-LGBTQ people at all levels of his administration,” she said. “Mr. Severino takes pride in being a stark opponent of the LGBTQ community and has made it clear that his number one priority is to vilify and degrade us.”
The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus also denounced the appointment, and Severino’s well-documented hostility towards transgender people, saying he could not be trusted to guarantee that all Americans are afforded equal access to health care. The caucus also again reiterated their opposition to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which Severino has cheered on from his post at the Heritage Foundation.
“The ACA has provided lifesaving access to health care for transgender people, who face much higher rates of poverty and income instability,” U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), the chair of the Transgender Equality Task Force, said in a statement. “A vote to gut both the ACA and Medicaid would compound the inequities the Trump Administration is already placing on the shoulders of transgender Americans. This Task Force will hold them accountable every step of the way.”