Trump administration formalizes discrimination, targeting LGBTQ people, Jews, and others
As the nation’s gaze focuses with horror on President Donald Trump’s attempts to incite insurrection and attack U.S. democracy, the machinery of Trump’s administration grinds on — as it grinds down members of marginalized minorities.
On Thursday as Twitter considered de-platforming Trump, as Vice President Mike Pence thought about the 25th Amendment and as Congress pondered impeachment, the Department of Health and Human Services quietly finalized a rule that enshrines and legitimizes homophobia and anti-Semitism.
It’s not just about LGBTQ. Neither Jews, Catholics, Muslims, nor atheists need apply.
Conservative Christians, mostly Evangelicals and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, have pushed hard for the new HHS rule for more than a year. It allows federal contractors and grant recipients — notably adoption and fostering agencies — to turn away LGBTQ people and people whose religion is different from the religion of the people who staff the agencies.
The rule is a direct response to Miracle Hill, an anti-LGBTQ, anti-semitic Christian children’s agency in South Carolina
The story of Miracle Hill is a frightening lesson in American bigotry. South Carolina children languish in institutions and temporary care because the state’s largest child-services agency will place them only with practicing, Protestant Christian families. It’s not just about LGBTQ. Neither Jews, Catholics, Muslims, nor atheists need apply.
The Trump administration has gone to bat for these bigots over and over — by supporting them in federal court, by granting a waiver to HHS rules, and finally last Thursday by changing the rules to make discrimination allowable for every agency in the nation that receives money from HHS.
Jewish foster mother turned away
As I wrote in a previous article, South Carolina mother Lydia Currie’s story is a frightening example of the raw bigotry Trump and his people fight for. When she inquired at the Department of Social Services in Greenville County, she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “We knew that the number of children needing care had become a crisis in our state, and that older children were being warehoused in modern-day orphanages.”
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Boys with a history in the system are hard to place in families,” she said, “because of the assumption that they might be violent… We decided that we wanted to give one of them a home.”
But when Currie applied to foster an older boy through the state and federal funded Miracle Hill, they turned her away because she and her husband are Jews.
Even though Miracle Hill was responsible for hundreds of at-risk wards of the state who needed immediate care, Currie spent two years searching out a different agency outside her area that finally let her foster a 9-year-old boy. None of the local children supervised by Miracle Hill, using millions of taxpayer dollars, was eligible for the Curries’ love and support.
Trump turns American and Christian values on their head
Just as Miracle Hill turns away prospective Jewish parents, they turn away prospective LGBTQ parents. Most Americans understand how immoral the agency’s behavior is — how it places religiously justified bigotry over the needs of children in crisis.
The Trump rule change will allow HHS grant recipients to discriminate in other areas
Federally funded agencies providing services in public health fields like HIV and STI programs, opioid addiction programs, and health research will now ALSO be able to turn people away based on their LGBTQ or religious identity. So will contractors addressing youth homelessness, human trafficking, and pre-K education. This list goes on.
Children are supposed to come first, and advocates speak up
- Denise Brogan-Kator of Family Equality says in in a statement, “Changing federal nondiscrimination rules … runs counter to the cardinal rule of child welfare: that the best interests of children in care must come first.”
- Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Sasha Buchert adds, “We call on the Biden-Harris administration to address discriminatory policies such as these immediately and commit to eliminating them root and branch.”
Eliminating bigoted HHS rules will be laborious and time consuming
Note that Buchert does not call for immediate elimination of the HHS rule. Sadly, that’s not possible. Federal rulemaking is a laborious, complicated, and often time-consuming process governed by legislation and procedures that vary from agency to agency.
The Trump administration began the process of changing HHS rules to allow religious discrimination in November 2019, more than a year before they were able to check off requirements to finalize the process. While the Biden administration may be able to find shortcuts, they will probably need a similar amount of time to write and formalize new rules.
In the meantime, unless the Equality Act gets signed into law or similar legislation outlaws discriminating against LGBTQ people, taxpayer-funded agencies like Miracle Hill will have free reign to turn away prospective foster and adoptive parents for no reason other than their religious, gender, or sexual identity.
Could anything be less American and less Christian than that?
Consider this. If your religion mandates that you must not, as a employee of a child-care agency, place needy children with LGBTQ families or Jewish families, then something about your religion is fundamentally broken. Every religion I know about, including the religion of Jesus, elevates caring for needy children to primary moral importance.
I’m sure I shock no one by suggesting that Trump and all the enabling members of his administration are immoral monsters. Americans of good will voted them out for a reason.
But let’s keep something in mind.
While Trump’s deplorables were ransacking the capitol building, Trump’s bureaucrats were hardening the federal machinery of bigotry, killing the hope of children in need.
What else will Trump’s people accomplish in the next several days? Is impeachment really nothing but symbolism? I don’t think so.
James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to email@example.com.