US Admin’s Decision Makes Fight for Transgender Health Care’s Rights Tougher
By – Anura
The Trump Administration took the next step in suppressing transgender rights in the latest instalment of decisions since Trump was elected to office. After making announcements such as barring transgender people from using washrooms which align with their gender identities in schools (2018), the administration recently unleashed another crackdown on health care rights of the transgender community.
On 12th June, 2020, the US Department of Health and human Services (HHS) announced a rollback on the Obama-era provisions for ensuring the protection of health care rights of the transgender community. The decision pertains to Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination in providing health care services on the basis of ”race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability in certain health programs and activities.” In 2016, discrimination on the basis of sex was redefined to take into account sex as gender identity, which includes female, male, neither or a combination.
However, the HHS said in a statement that it would revert to the previous understanding of gender, the “plain meaning”, as sex being either male or female and being biologically determined. It is important to understand that such statements don’t change the law but are made to issue clarifications on the meaning of several rules and regulations. The decision has been a much lobbied issue within the religious and conservative supporters of Donald Trump. If put into effect, it would spell that doctors and healthcare givers in federally funded health units can refuse to treat people from the transgender community sighting religious reasons.
The decision was met with severe criticism from the opposition and other groups, with Joe Biden, Presidential front runner, labelling the decision as “despicable”. In the backdrop of the pandemic, the decision has the potential to infringe upon the access of transgender people to basic health care facilities, including treatment for Corona virus. Adding on to the welfare concerns for the transgender community, the Department of Housing and Urban Development separately made an announcement stating that federally funded shelters in the US can turn away transgender people on the grounds of religious reasons.
Several organisations have come forward with the resolve to oppose the decision, with American Civil Liberties Group and Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights Project taking the issue to court. In a statement featured in the Washington Post, Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney for Lambda Legal, said, “This rule change serves no other purpose than to target and discriminate against LGBTQ people. The cruelty is the point.”
A broader perspective on the issue would reveal that the new rules are a part of the overarching agenda of the systemic attack on reproductive rights. From abortion laws to health care rights of queer community, it feels like the clocks have been reversed a century on most of these issues. With several crackdowns on the rights of transgender people, the federal government has pushed various agendas like, but not limited to, curbing abortion measures, promoting abstinence over birth control and confining the acceptable institution of marriage as between a man and woman only, in various settings, from the school to the military.
However, a big relief for opponents on the decision came in the form of a Supreme Court ruling just 3 days after the announcement was made. In a 6-to-3 decision, the American LGBTQ+ is protected from sex based discrimination in the work space. It had a resounding impact and people are speculating it can have a ripple effect on the HHS statement, making it difficult for the department to implement the changes. Adding on to that, some states like Illinois have reaffirmed their commitment towards protecting the rights of the queer community.
Closer home, the transgender community in India is battling the Trans Bill which was passed in the parliament in 2019. The opposition to the Bill claims that it undermines their Right to Life and goes against the NALSA judgement, which stated that a transgender person has a right to decide their gender identity on their own. In contrast, the Bill requires an official to certify the gender identity of individuals from the community. The battle against the Bill continues in the country.