More than once, most recently in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, President Joe Biden has told trans youth that he has their back. While welcoming his words, some activists wondered, beyond rhetoric, what this commitment amounted to.
Wednesday, the Biden administration announced that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will now use the weight of the law against attempts to restrict trans teens’ access to gender-affirming health care, as well as against health threats health professionals who dispense it.
In doing so, the White House has signaled that it is ready to fight in the courts not only of Texas, specifically mentioned in recently released legal guidelines, but also of multiple Republican legislatures seeking to ban such health care, criminalizing the both parents and health care providers. .
The measures followed Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s widely publicized directive that parents and healthcare providers should be investigated for possible ‘child abuse’ if they offer gender-affirming healthcare to trans teens — even though gender-affirming healthcare in Texas isn’t against the law. .
The state’s Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) investigation into one family – two others are under investigation – was blocked on Wednesday by a Texas district judge, who said that he would consider next week whether to issue an order ending such statewide “investigations.”
Biden sentenced Abbott’s actions, saying, “This is the worst of government excesses. Like so many anti-transgender attacks proliferating in states across the country, the governor’s actions callously threaten to harm children and their families just to score political points. These actions terrify many families in Texas and beyond. And they have to stop.
The legal advice announced Wednesday, Biden said, “warned the State of Texas that their discriminatory actions put children’s lives at risk.”
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said the Biden administration stands ready to “take immediate action if necessary” on what happened in Texas. “I know many young people and their supporting families feel scared and isolated because of these attacks. HHS is closely monitoring the situation in Texas and will use every tool at its disposal to keep Texans safe.
“Any person or family in Texas who is the subject of a child welfare investigation because of this discriminatory Governor’s order is encouraged to contact our Office of Civil Rights to report their experience.”
In a separate statement, HHS outlined specific legal remedies for trans teens and their families. “Parents or guardians who believe that their child has been denied health care, including gender-affirming care, based on that child’s gender identity, may file a complaint with Health care providers who believe they are or have been unlawfully prevented from providing health care to a patient based on that patient’s gender identity may file a complaint with the OCR. OCR.
The OCR “investigated and, where appropriate, enforced Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act in cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in accordance with all applicable laws.” People should file a complaint, HHS said, if they believe they have been discriminated against in a health program or activity that receives financial assistance from HHS.
Biden added that “rather than arming child protective services against loving families, child protective agencies should instead expand access to gender-affirming care for transgender children. Medical organizations organizations have said that access to gender-affirming care for transgender children can benefit mental health, reduce suicide rates, and improve other health outcomes.Children, their parents, and their physicians should have the freedom to make the medical decisions that are best for each young person, without politicians getting involved.
Biden underscored his commitment to LGBTQ equality in his speech Tuesday before a joint session of Congress. He called for the Equality Act, which would enshrine LGBTQ equality protections at the federal level, to “finally…come to my desk.” (It has passed in the House, but not yet in the Senate.)
“I will always support you as President, so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential.”
— President Joe Biden
Biden added, “The onslaught of state laws targeting transgender Americans and their families is wrong. As I said last year, especially to our young transgender Americans, I will always have your back as President, so you can be yourself and reach your God-given potential.
HHS’ forceful statement Wednesday night makes it clear that Republican legislatures seeking to block trans teens from accessing health care are breaking the law. Arkansas became the first state to enact such a law last April, which is now the subject of multiple legal challenges.
Section 1557, the statement states, “protects the right of individuals to access the health programs and activities of recipients of federal financial assistance free from discrimination on the basis of sex, which includes discrimination on the basis of gender identity”.
“Providers who may be concerned about their obligations to disclose information regarding gender-affirming care should seek additional legal advice regarding their legal responsibilities and other laws.”
— HHS Statement
HHS has also taken steps to reassure and hold anxious health care providers, who are also targeted by Republican lawmakers insisting they not only stop providing health care, but also inform young people. patients and their families who are looking for them.
“HIPAA, the basic patient privacy law, limits the circumstances in which health care providers and other entities can disclose protected health information, such as physical or mental health care claiming sex administered by a licensed provider,” the statement said. “Providers who may be concerned about their obligations to disclose information regarding gender-affirming care should seek additional legal advice regarding their legal responsibilities and other laws.”
The statement made clear that HHS stands “with transgender and gender non-conforming youth and their families – and the vast majority of expert medical associations – in unequivocally stating that gender-affirming care for minors, when medically appropriate and necessary, improve their physical and mental health.
“Attempts to restrict, challenge or mislabel this potentially life-saving care as abuse are dangerous. Such attempts prevent parents from making critical health care decisions for their children, create a chilling effect on the health care providers who are needed to provide care for these young people, and ultimately have a negative impact on the health and well-being of transgender and gender non-conforming youth.