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Jay Wu
March 23, 2017

Trump Appoints Radical Anti-LGBT Activist to Lead HHS Civil Rights Office

Roger Severino spent much of his career demeaning and marginalizing LGBT Americans; civil rights groups express deep concern, urge recusal

This statement was co-signed by the Center for American Progress, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Health Law Program, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Partnership for Women and Families, the National Women's Law Center, and Out 2 Enroll.

President Trump this week quietly appointed anti-LGBT extremist Roger Severino as Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS/OCR). The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), the Center for American Progress (CAP), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Health Law Program, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Partnership for Women and Families, and Out 2 Enroll expressed grave concern that Severino, whose extreme views opposing women’s rights and transgender people brought him to prominence on the far right, will now be in charge of enforcing the very same civil rights protections he has worked to undermine.

This appointment is yet another example of President Trump and Secretary Price’s increasingly long list of compromised nominees who have alarming conflicts of interest and, now, the opportunity to abuse their power guided by ideology, not law or fact.

Until this week, Severino served as Director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society for the Heritage Foundation. There, he authored a report opposing OCR's implementation of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, age, disability, and sex in federally funded health programs. Severino has called the efforts of agencies such as OCR to protect transgender people from discrimination an “abuse of power” wielded “to coerce everyone…into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology.” Contrary the conclusions of most courts to consider the issue, Severino has claimed that applying Section 1557 to gender identity discrimination constitutes a “radical” “redefining” of sex discrimination that is “not justified” by the law.

Further, Severino has falsely asserted that HHS’s 1557 rule “create[s] special privileges based on gender identity” that can “force doctors to perform sex-reassignment surgeries” even when they are not medically necessary. The rule does no such thing. And these medical treatments, which Severino calls “controversial,” are supported by decades of research and the opinions of the American Medical Association, American College of Physicians, and American Academy of Family Physicians, among others, as being medically necessary for many patients.

Severino also strongly opposed HHS’s commonsense interpretation of Section 1557 to apply to discrimination related to pregnancy termination, including denying care to patients just because they have previously had an abortion. He has been a staunch opponent of access to contraception and other sexual and reproductive health services, opposing the ACA’s contraceptive access provision and calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Severino’s 2016 Heritage report calls repealing the ACA, including the nondiscrimination provision he is now charged with enforcing. Thanks to a lawsuit applauded by Severino, one district court judge issued a nationwide injunction last year barring enforcement of parts of the 1557 rule by HHS. In a highly unusual step, the Trump Justice Department declined to appeal that sweeping order.

The undersigned organizations express grave concern regarding this appointment and Severino’s ability to faithfully and impartially enforce the ACA and protect LGBT people from discrimination. At a minimum, we call for Director Severino and any other Trump appointee who has worked against the ACA’s nondiscrimination protections to recuse themselves from decisions related to its enforcement.

“By appointing Mr. Severino to enforce the life-saving protections that he has made his personal mission to dismantle, the Trump administration has once again put the fox in charge of the hen house,” said Mara Keisling, Executive Director of NCTE. “He has made attacking women’s and LGBT people’s access to health care one of the centerpieces of his career, while his baseless claims about protections for transgender people—repeated over and over without any regard for the consequences on transgender people’s lives—betray a fundamental misunderstanding of federal civil rights laws, medical science, the reality of what it means to be transgender. Mr. Severino is now in a position to transform his dangerous rhetoric into action that can inflict serious harm on the lives of millions of Americans. We cannot let this happen.”

“I could not think of a more dangerous person to head up the Office of Civil Rights at HHS,” said JoDee Winterhof, Senior Vice President of Policy and Political Affairs of HRC. “Once again, Donald Trump is declaring war against our community by appointing anti-LGBTQ people at all levels of his administration. Mr. Severino takes pride in being a stark opponent of the LGBTQ community and has made it clear that his number one priority is to vilify and degrade us. We will fight tooth and nail against any attempts to roll back civil rights, including access to health care.”

“Frankly, it is sick that President Trump would appoint Roger Severino to lead OCR – putting a man who made his career opposing healthcare nondiscrimination laws in charge of enforcing those very same protections,” said Winnie Stachelberg, Executive Vice President for External Affairs of CAP. “Before the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies routinely denied equal treatment to same-sex couples and more than half of private insurance plans explicitly discriminated against transgender patients, with more than a quarter of transgender people reported being denied medical care by a provider. Severino’s writing makes it clear that he wants to take us back to the days when 1 in 4 transgender people was refused medical care outright.”

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