The LGBTQ+ community finds itself in fear and uncertainty once again. This time due to the recent Trump Administration’s Civil Rights Health Pick: Roger Severino. His appointment took many Americans and members of the LGBTQ+ by surprise since there seems to be no formal announcement of his role as Director of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Nonetheless, his appointment is official and corroborated by the OCR website, which introduces him as the new Director.
Based on the anti-LGBT reputation that precedes him, LGBTQ+ members and sympathizers have every right to be alarmed and concerned about the responsibility and power that he has been given. Prior to his appointment, Severino was a staffer at the Heritage Foundation with strong anti-LGBT ideals. As a matter of fact, in 2007 he published an article titled: “Or for Poorer? How Same-Sex Marriage Threatens Religious Liberty”. It is pretty clear where he stands on marriage equality judging by the title of the article. In addition to this, he has criticized the progress, and intention of the Obama Administration of providing civil rights protection to the LGBTQ+ community in general, but specifically to transgender people. It was under the Obama Administration that the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights along with a hospital in Brooklyn agreed to provide transgender people with equal care and implement policies to discourage discrimination against this group, such as the zero-tolerance policy for derogatory statement by staff. This is the type of action that this office is expected to promote and enforce, especially nowadays given the debate and controversy that there is on transgender people as discussed in previous posts. Based on his reputation, it should not be astonishing to know that Severino has a strong opinion on this matter which does not protect or benefit transgender people. In regards to health care system, Severino has expressed that “protecting trans people against discrimination would penalize medical professionals and health care organizations that, as a matter of faith, moral conviction, or professional medical judgement, believe that maleness and femaleness are biological realities to be respected and affirmed, not altered or treated as disease.” In other words, he believes that discrimination is not a problem at all, which would make unqualified for this position. But again, he would not be the first unsuitable person appointed by the Trump Administration to hold such positions.
Severino’s character and ideals should be a great cause of concern to all Americans, given that according to the mission of the organization that he is director of, he should be dedicated to ensuring people’s equal access to health care: “The mission of the Office for Civil Rights is to improve the health and well-being of people across the nation; to ensure that people have equal access to and the opportunity to participate in and receive services from HHS programs without facing unlawful discrimination; and to protect the privacy and security of health information in accordance with applicable law.”
Even though it seems that his appointment was intended to not receive much attention based on the unusual manner that it was carried out: not official announcement, it is convenient that people within the LGBTQ+ community are very involved in the development of their rights’ protection and paying attention to current events. As of now, it is unlikely for Severino to go against all the progress that the former administration has made because if there is one thing that all politicians despise is bad press/publicity, especially when starting a leadership position. However, it is important to be aware of the fact that his position enables him to decide what cases to prioritize and actually work on since the office carries its operation by means of civil right complaints. Hence, he may have the power to stall equal right protection for transgender people.