Tish James Takes on Trump Over Trans Healthcare

New York State Attorney General Letitia James vows to challenge Donald Trump's transphobic disruption of the Affordable Care Act.
New York City Council/ William Alatriste

New York State Attorney General Letitia James said in a Facebook Live broadcast with LGBTQ leaders on June 15 that her office will aggressively challenge the Trump administration’s latest attack on transgender and non-binary rights in healthcare settings.

James specifically took aim at the administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rule, finalized on June 12, that invalidates a 2016 provision of the Affordable Care Act that required medical professionals, hospitals, and health insurance providers to provide health services equally to trans people and women who have had an abortion. Some legal experts, including Chase Strangio of the American Civil Liberties Union, have argued that the HHS rule is illegal.

State attorney general to challenge elimination of nondiscrimination protections in Obamacare

“An agency can only do what is authorized by the law it is implementing,” Strangio wrote in a tweet on June 12, three days before the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ employees in employment. “So if the law says ‘no discrimination on the basis of sex’ an agency can’t decide to disregard that. The statue, not the regulatory definition, is the source of the protection.”

Building on that logic, James is moving forward with an effort to challenge the administration’s rule that seeks to strip trans protections in healthcare.

“This rule basically undermines legal protections of guaranteed healthcare as a right,” James, who previously served as a New York city councilmember and the city’s public advocate, said during the broadcast. “It opens the door to discriminatory treatment of a number of groups in the healthcare system. Among other things, the proposed rule rolls back protections against discrimination and on gender identity and sex stereotyping. It will not be tolerated, not only in New York, but anywhere across this nation.”

She continued, “Specifically, this rule narrows the definition of sex in the non-discrimination clause to encompass only discrimination in biological sex.”

James, who also warned that the rule could discourage queer people from seeking healthcare coverage altogether out of fear of discrimination, expressed confidence that she would be successful in her quest to take on the administration in court.

“I want all of you to know this office will legally challenge this rule and we will fight back against this administration each and every time,” James said.

Among others who were on hand for the virtual Facebook Live event included the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center’s transgender and gender non-binary health advocacy coordinator, Nala Simone Toussaint, who described the Trump administration’s rule as an action that “adds insult to injury” because it was finalized on the anniversary of the Pulse massacre and just weeks after the death of Aimee Stephens, a lead plaintiff in one of three LGBTQ-related employment discrimination cases that came before the Supreme Court — in which the high court ruled for the gay and transgender plaintiffs on June 15. She also cited the rising death toll of Black trangsender women due to deadly violence.

“We are fed up, we’ve had enough, and we’re tired of being tired and tired of trusting the government to protect our existence,” Toussaint said. “We’ve been waiting for too long. We will not wait anymore.”

She continued, “Our communities have already experienced severe health disparities that will be exacerbated by this rule, possibly ending in poor health outcomes.”

Some others participating in the live broadcast included activist, entertainer, and style icon B. Hawk Snipes, organizer Harold Waight, district leader Corey Ortega, Carmen Neely, president of Harlem Pride and co-chair of Black and Latino LGBTQ Coalition, Kiara St. James, the co-founder and executive director of New York Transgender Advocacy Group, and Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City vice president Melissa Sklarz.

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