A dozen U.S. Senators, all Democrats save one, raised serious concerns Monday over the Trump administration’s decision to hire an anti-LGBTQ activist to head the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
In a blistering letter to HHS chief Tom Price, the senators demanded to know how Roger Severino’s “long history of making bigoted statements toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people” makes him qualified to lead an office intended to safeguard diversity and inclusion.
President Trump last month quietly appointed Severino, the former director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, who is openly hostile to LGBTQ and reproductive rights, as Rewire reported.
The three-page letter cites examples of Severino suggesting religious beliefs should trump anti-discrimination laws. He argued in 2015 that state law should have accommodated the discriminatory religious beliefs of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
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Severino’s writings indicate he is fiercely opposed to reproductive rights. He has argued in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood, accusing the health-care provider of using “every trick in the book to get federal money by trying to pretend that its core business is anything but industrial-scale abortion.” He wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision struck down a “reasonable law intended to protect women from conditions like those found at the Gosnell clinic.”
Kermit Gosnell was a rogue abortion doctor convicted of murder.
“His offensive statements raise serious questions about his ability to oversee the Office of Civil Rights,” the senators wrote. The duty of the civil rights office, the senators continue, is to safeguard “equal access” and protect against “unlawful discrimination.”
The senators signing the letter include some of the chamber’s most vocal and influential.
The lawmakers’ letter called for answers from Price by April 21. They question the administration’s vetting process and ask whether Severino will be held accountable for upholding anti-discrimination protections in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The senators close with this question: “How does the Department plan to promote a diverse and inclusive workforce free of prejudice or malice?”
LGBTQ right advocates excoriated the Trump administration following Severino’s appointment, accusing the Republican administration of putting “the fox in charge of the hen house.” Groups including the National Center for Transgender Equality blasted Severino’s record of “demeaning and marginalizing LGBT Americans.”
Severino denounced a rule in the ACA that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, age, disability, and sex in federally funded health programs. He erroneously claimed that Section 1557 of the ACA “create[s] special privileges based on gender identity” that can “force doctors to perform sex-reassignment surgeries.”
Severino last year denounced the military’s transgender inclusive policy as a “radical new gender ideology” and castigated the Department of Justice lawsuit against North Carolina’s anti-transgender law as an “unprecedented overreach.”