Anti-LGBTQ Lawyer Appointed Head Of HHS' Civil Rights Office

by Morgan Brinlee
Max Whittaker/Getty Images News/Getty Images

A man known for being a stark opponent of the LGBTQ community has been quietly appointed head of a federal agency tasked with ensuring unlawful discrimination resulting from insurance providers' potential prejudices doesn't hinder any American's access to health care. Former Heritage Foundation staffer Roger Severino was reportedly appointed Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) by President Donald Trump last week. Severino is well known within the LGBTQ community for having a long history of supporting anti-LGBTQ legislation, once referring to transgender women as "biological men" whose quest for equal rights threatened the "needs, safety, and privacy" of cisgender women.

In an article written last year for The Daily Signal, Severino called North Carolina's controversial transgender bathroom bill a "commonsense" policy and referred to transgender women seeking access to the ladies room as "biological men." Additionally, Severino mocked HHS' move to redefine discrimination on the basis of sex to include discrimination resulting from sex stereotypes, or the idea that gender is comprised only of the masculine male and the feminine female. "The radical left is using government power to coerce everyone, including children, into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology over and above their right to privacy, safety, and religious freedom," Severino wrote.

Moreover, judging by a report Severino co-authored with Ryan Anderson for the Heritage Foundation, the newly-appointed director of HHS' Office of Civil Rights isn't likely to fight for Obama-era rules (currently being challenged by religious health care providers and five states) that prohibit discrimination against transgender people. Prohibiting what he called "differential treatment" of transgender patients would "penalize medical professionals and health care organizations that, as a matter of faith, moral conviction, or professional medical judgment, believe that maleness and femaleness are biological realities to be respected and affirmed, not altered or treated as diseases," the two wrote.

Prior to his appointment to HHS' Office of Civil Rights, Severino served as the director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. There he often lobbied against pro-LGBTQ legislation like the legalization of same-sex marriage, which he argued threatened religious liberty.

Severino's views on LGBTQ rights have spurred concerns among advocates that the HHS' Office of Civil Rights will no longer fight to protect the health care access of transgender people, a group that often faces especially high levels of discrimination when it comes to medical services.

"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," Mara Keisling, the executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), said in a statement condemning Severino's appointment. "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."

Among the many organizations to join the NCTE in speaking out against Severino's appointment are the Center for American Progress, the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Health Law Program, the National Women's Law Center, Out 2 Enroll, and the National Partnership for Women and Families.

"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," JoDee Winterhof, the Human Rights Campaign's senior vice president of Policy and Political Affairs, said in a statement. "We will fight tooth and nail against any attempts to roll back civil rights, including access to health care."