We're Suing The Department of Health & Human Services For Failure To Disclose Documents About LGBTQ People

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May 22, 2019
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Lambda Legal today filed a federal lawsuit to compel the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release information about their communications with outside organizations and decisions pertaining to the health care and well-being of LGBTQ people, including the alleged suspension of the publication and implementation of LGBTQ nondiscrimination rules and regulations.

Lambda Legal filed three Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with HHS more than one year ago for documents and communications relating to LGBTQ people and the decision to freeze implementation of these rules. HHS has so far provided no records for any of these requests.

“Since taking office, the Trump administration has sought to undermine the mission of the Department of Health and Human Services, and sought to promote discrimination against LGBTQ people in all spheres of life, particularly in health care. We deserve to know how and why they have made these decisions,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Senior Staff Attorney and Health Care Strategist at Lambda Legal.

“Transparency and accountability are cornerstones of our democracy, and the Freedom of Information Act is a vital part of citizens’ ability to understand how the government works and hold politicians accountable. HHS cannot be allowed to flout our laws, to devise discriminatory policies behind closed doors, and to work in the dark with outside organizations in order to promote discrimination against LGBTQ people.”

Soon after the Trump administration took office, reports began filtering out of HHS political appointees overruling career staff and cancelling or delaying implementation of rules and initiatives dealing with reproductive rights and health care for LGBTQ people, including transition-related care.

Furthermore, additional concerns were raised about the political leadership within HHS working in concert with outside organizations seeking to undermine existing nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

Accordingly, Lambda Legal in late April last year filed three FOIA requests with HHS, seeking:

  • All records reflecting communications between political appointees at HHS and individuals at any of two dozen outside organizations (including the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Heritage Foundation);
  • A request for any records belonging to, created by, addressed to, or sent to “political appointees” at HHS that mention, discuss, reference, or relate to LGBTQ matters or people; and,
  • A multi-part request for any records that mention, discuss, reference, or relate to HHS’s decision about whether to post, publish, or enforce a rule or regulation, whether proposed or final, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sex stereotypes, or transgender status against HHS employees, staff, contractors, or subcontractors, including with regards to access to restrooms or other sex-designated facilities; or in any Medicare or Medicaid program, plan, policy, contract, accreditation process, provider, facility, or service.

To date, HHS has produced no records. HHS has only partially responded to one of the requests, and has not addressed the other two at all. Lambda Legal filed an administrative appeal in December, to which HHS has also not responded.

“HHS is tasked to ensure the well-being and health of people in this country, particularly marginalized populations, but their actions reveal that under the Trump administration, HHS is actively undermining protections and regulations behind closed doors with horrendous consequences to LGBTQ people nationwide,” said Cathren Cohen, Lambda Legal Law Fellow.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, is Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Read a copy of the complaint.

Lambda Legal is counsel and plaintiff in the lawsuit. Handling this case on behalf of Lambda Legal are Omar Gonzalez-Pagan and Cathren Cohen.