Metro Weekly

HHS restores sexual orientation question to elder Americans survey

Move comes after the public and a bipartisan group of senators object to erasure of LGBTQ Americans

Marchers with SAGE in the 2016 New York Pride Parade – Photo: SAGE USA, via Facebook.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has restored a question on sexual orientation that was eliminated from a federal survey on elderly Americans after a backlash of criticism from U.S. senators, LGBTQ advocates, and the general public.

Back in March, HHS proposed a single change to the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants, which surveys elderly people receiving federally-funded services — such as home-delivered meals, transportation, or health services — under the Older Americans Act. When news of the proposed change broke, LGBTQ advocates leapt into action, urging people to protest the change.

In the months following the proposed deletion, HHS’ Administration for Community Living heard comments from 89 organizations and nearly 14,000 individuals urging them to scuttle the change. The advocates publicly worried that this “erasure” of the LGBTQ community would be used to justify defunding or cutting funds that fund crucial programs for LGBTQ elderly Americans.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators, led by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), also objected to the change, sending a letter to HHS Secretary Tom Price asking him to restore the demographic question dealing with sexual orientation.

On Thursday, the Administration for Community Living published notice in the Federal Register announcing its plans to retain the sexual orientation question as part of the survey.

“Restoring the sexual orientation question to the key Older Americans Act survey will help ensure that federal resources best serve the needs of older LGBT Americans,” Casey said in a statement. “I am pleased that HHS has reversed course and I will continue to fight to ensure that the administration recognizes and supports LGBT Americans.”

SAGE, the national advocacy organization for elderly LGBTQ people, declared partial victory after the announcement in the Federal Register, noting that the survey still does not count transgender elders. The group vowed to continue to push for inclusion of questions on gender identity during the next 30-day comment period.

“Thousands of LGBT elders and their allies forced the Trump administration to reverse course on their discriminatory plans,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in a statement. “But if the administration thinks that with this partial victory SAGE will now abandon trans elders, it’s in for a big surprise.”

“We will continue raising our voices until everyone in our community is counted, including our trans elders,” the organization said in an official statement. “We will not be erased. We will not be eliminated. We will not go quietly. We refuse to be invisible.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at

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