Advocates for LGBT+ equality find cause for alarm at Health & Human Services

LGBT+ advocates are sounding the alarm over Roger Severino’s leadership of the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), NPR reports.

Severino, a devout Catholic and political conservative, previously worked at the right-wing Heritage Foundation, where he called the Obama-era decision at HHS to extend civil rights protections to LGBT+ people “radical.”

Since taking office, Severino has taken a number of steps that will probably result in hardship for LGBT+ people, including the creation of the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom, a brand new division within the civil rights office. Severino told NPR that this division will seek to ensure that medical workers and health care companies are not forced to participate in medical services, including abortion and assisted suicide, if they object. When he was at Heritage, he also argued that medical workers and companies ought to be allowed to opt out of providing care related to gender transition.

A recent report from the Movement Advancement Project, “A Prescription for Disaster,’ notes that 31 states lack exploit legal protections against discrimination against LGBT+ people in health care and public accommodations. While the Affordable Care Act technically prohibits discrimination based on sex, the federal government currently does not enforce the law in a way inclusive of trans people.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found that more than one third of transgender adults had experienced health care discrimination in the previous year.

Harper Jean Tobin, the policy director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told NPR that the actions Severino has taken will likely do even more damage to transgender people’s ability to access care.

“No one is forcing doctors to perform gender-affirming surgeries against their will,” Tobin says. “But what is happening every day, is transgender patients are being denied every kind of medical care you can think of.”

Read more from NPR