Lambda Legal Files FOIA Request After Trump Administration Restricts Use of Seven Words at CDC

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December 20, 2017
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Today, Lambda Legal filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for any and all documents and communications from the Trump-Pence administration regarding their prohibition of the words “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based” in any budget documents from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), other divisions of HHS or any government agency.

Lambda Legal, joined by the Human Rights Campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality, also sent a letter today demanding a meeting with the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Michael Mulvaney, the head of the agency that coordinates budget submissions, to get some answers.

“The CDC is no place for politics. Censoring our nation’s public health agency isn’t just an Orwellian joke – it endangers lives.  Our most vulnerable family – transgender people, women, communities of color and everyone living with and at higher risk of HIV – will suffer first and most from being erased,” said Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal.

"At the height of the AIDS epidemic, Ronald Reagan refused to say the words HIV and AIDS. Precious lives were lost because the government ignored us and pretended we didn’t exist. Never again.”
—  Lambda Legal CEO Rachel B. Tiven

“At the height of the AIDS epidemic, Ronald Reagan refused to say the words HIV and AIDS.  Precious lives were lost because the government ignored us and pretended we didn’t exist. Never again.”

The censorship of the CDC is only the latest in the Trump-Pence administration’s attempt to erase LGBT people and everyone living with HIV.

Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) removed questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in its annual consumer assessment survey for participants in programs funded under the Older Americans Act. After public outcry, the question about sexual orientation was reinstated, but the question regarding gender identity is still missing.

The National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, which has been working on HIV prevention among transgender people, who are at a disproportionate risk for HIV and face significant hurdles to access vital health care, will be affected by the censorship.

“A prohibition on use of these words will only worsen existing health disparities,” said Scott Schoettes, HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal. “We will do everything in our power to get to the bottom of this and fight it. If this administration does not reverse this directive, they will end up with blood on their hands.”

Lambda Legal has requested documents from the Trump-Pence administration before in relation to anti-LGBT directives to government agencies and sued when those requests were denied.

In August, Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit to compel the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice to release information about their decision to withdraw guidance detailing the protections transgender students have under Title IX after the Trump Administration failed to comply with FOIA requests and refused to release any documents.

“Why the administration would want to tie the hands of policymakers trying to serve vulnerable populations is beyond comprehension,” added Max Isaacs, Lambda Legal Law Fellow.

“The public has a right to know what language restrictions have been put in place, who is subject to them, and why the administration created this dangerous and misguided policy.”