SILVER SPRING – Amanda Barry-Moilanen of Wheaton is scared that a Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) proposed rule allowing its grant recipients to discriminate, would result in fewer children ever being adopted.
On Nov. 1, the Trump administration published a notice that it intends only to comply with explicitly spelled out U.S. Supreme Court rulings and congressional decisions concerning discrimination and not enforce other rulings that it believes violate the freedoms of speech and religion.
Due to “several complaints, requests for exceptions and lawsuits” against certain HHS antidiscrimination rules, the department intends to loosen requirements on its grant recipients, according to an HHS press office.
According to the department, HHS is concerned that some grantees will refuse funds based on religious grounds and thereby cease providing services rather than comply.
The department believes that such an outcome would likely reduce the effectiveness of some of the programs it funds by reducing the number of organizations willing to provide services.
However, Family Equality Chief Policy Officer Denise Brogan-Kator believes the rule change would make it okay to discriminate when using HHS grant money. It would enable welfare agencies to become “free to discriminate” unless the law specifically prohibits discrimination, she said.
Therefore, sexual identity would no longer be a protected class, she said.
At the same time, as it publicized the new rule and called for public comment, the Trump administration issued a notice of intent of non-enforcement of the current rule, thereby allowing HHS the right stop enforcing the existing rule now, she explained.
“The effect is, the proposed rule went into effect immediately,” she said.
However, in announcing the change, the federal government noted that “merely because a regulation is not being enforced does not mean that it has been repealed or replaced.”
Like, Barry-Moilanen, she too is concerned about youth in foster care.
If nonprofit agencies that receive federal dollars are legally permitted to refuse to allow children in their program to be adopted by LGBTQ parents, the number of available foster parents “will be severely limited,” and some children will never be adopted, Brogan-Kator said.
“The youth are going to see that the acceptable type of family to the United States government is a straight family. That’s the optics they will see,” said Barry-Moilanen, who grew up with “two moms. I was born into that. I’ve had two moms my entire life.”
“You are reducing the pool of families,” she said.
There are more than 440,000 children in the foster care system, and this rule change would “reduce the number of qualified foster parents because they are gay or non-Christian,” according to Family Equity, which is located in New York.
It’s not just foster care or adoption, said Barry-Moilanen, an American University graduate student.
Gay parents who want to send their child to the early education program Head Start may be turned down under this proposal.
A gay family may not receive necessary temporary assistance, like food or clothing, she added.
Those supporting this change are calling it a religious rights issue, she noted, but it greatly affects the children of gay parents who may not be gay themselves.
Do The Most Good, an activist organization in Montgomery County, called for its members to oppose the proposed restrictions that it says would allow HHS grant recipients to refuse services based on sexual orientation, gender, and religion.
Nancy Navarro, who is active with Do the Most Good, said the rule change is just another example of the federal government “chipping away at our rights.”
She added, “All this stuff is going on, and hardly anyone notices.”
Navarro, who is not related to County Councilmember Nancy Navarro, said, “There are hundreds, thousands of grantees” who could now have the right to discriminate.
“It could be homeless shelters. It could be virtually anything. It’s a really broad brush,” said the Rockville resident.
Also, according to the Center for American Progress, if the proposed paragraph change goes into effect, “A Jewish couple could be rejected from adopting a child on the basis of their religion” and “a same-sex couple could be denied childcare assistance if the grantee did not recognize the validity of their marriage.”
According to the ACLU, Meals on Wheels could refuse to deliver means to members of the LGBTQ community.
Other examples where discrimination could occur according to the The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) include gay seniors who could be refused services needed to be able to stay in their homes and an unaccompanied immigrant who is transgender girl could be housed in a boy’s shelter or isolation.