Six State Agencies Submit Public Comments Opposing Proposed Rule
Proposed Rule Contradicts New York's Existing Anti-Discrimination Laws Which the State Will Continue to Enforce
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced opposition to the federal government's proposed rule change that would allow foster care and adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ families in the placement of children. The federal government's proposed rule may also pave the way for other programs that receive federal funding to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. These programs include a wide range of critical services, including supportive housing, domestic violence support, ensuring maternal and infant health, job training for the elderly, services for people living with HIV, and Head Start programs for children.
Six agencies -- the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), Division of Human Rights (DHR), Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV), Department of Health (DOH), and Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) -- joined together this week in submitting public comments opposing the proposed rule change. In their comments, the agencies make clear that no matter what happens at the federal level, New York will not tolerate discrimination due to a person's LGBTQ status or for any other category protected under the State's Human Rights Law. In November, Governor Cuomo also announced that, if the federal government enacts this discriminatory rule, New York State will take legal action to stop it.
"This is a heartless, repugnant proposal against the LGBTQ community from a federal government that has made it its mission to turn the clock back and make discrimination legal," Governor Cuomo said. "New York stands firmly against this proposed rule which insults the dignity of LGBTQ Americans and gives foster and adoption agencies permission to deny children loving families."
In 2016, the federal government enacted a policy prohibiting entities that receive funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from discriminating based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, on November 19, 2019, HHS published a proposed rule change that would rollback these antidiscrimination requirements. This proposed rule would also eliminate the requirement that HHS grantees or sub-grantees recognize the validity of same-sex marriages. The proposed rule is inconsistent with New York State's anti-discrimination laws, would cause confusion about the rights and obligations of grant recipients, and could have a chilling effect on those seeking critical services. Programs and services administered in New York State that are available to the general public and supported by public funds must still adhere to all applicable New York State anti-discrimination laws and protections.
Office of Children and Family Services Commissioner Sheila J. Poole said,"The proposed rule will permit discrimination against LGBTQ children and families, and does not promote the safety, permanency, and well-being of children and families. I am proud that New York State vigorously opposes this action. In New York State, we welcome all families who are willing and ready to provide loving and nurturing homes to foster or adoptive children."
Division of Human Rights Commissioner Angela Fernandez said, "The proposed rule is an unconscionable step backwards for millions of Americans. Raising a child is a fundamental part of the human experience and denying that opportunity to LGBTQ New Yorkers is not something we can accept. The New York State Division of Human Rights will hold accountable any entity that engages in discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression."
Division of Housing and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said, "This proposed rule takes direct aim at our nation's hard-fought civil rights laws and undermines New York's strong commitment to preventing discrimination. It must not be adopted. We work hard to ensure that all people are treated fairly and equally, including creating affordable homes that meet New Yorkers' health and social needs. Many members of the LGBTQ community struggle with housing instability and face a high risk of homelessness due to years of discrimination and stigmatization. Allowing social services providers to turn people away just because of who they are is immoral, wrong, and contrary to New York law."
Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Executive Director Kelli Owens said,"New York State and OPDV work to ensure that every domestic violence victim receives the services they need to keep themselves safe. We strongly oppose this Proposed Rule that increases the likelihood that victims of domestic violence will be harmed by discrimination from service providers and denied potentially life-saving resources."
Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, "Excluding LGBTQ families from fostering or adopting is pure discrimination, based on nothing but intolerance. This rule also has the potential to weaken crucial public health service programs throughout the state. The Department of Health joins these agencies in denouncing this heartless federal proposal that can only end with the potential for further discriminatory practices."
Office for the Aging Acting Director Greg Olsen said, "This damaging proposed rule would not only have a devastating effect on LGBTQ older individuals in need of supports and services, it would reduce an already limited volunteer pool by placing discriminatory personal beliefs above the immediate needs of adults and children who greatly benefit from having volunteer programs and assistance in their communities. I commend Governor Cuomo for leading the strong opposition to this proposed rule, and for his ongoing commitment to creating diverse, integrated, age-friendly communities where all New Yorkers can grow up and grow older."
Today's action is the latest step in Governor Cuomo's fight against the federal government's series of attacks on the LGBTQ community. This past September, the Governor announced opposition to the federal government's proposed rule change that would broadly expand the definition of "religious exemptions" for federal contractors and make it easier for those entities to discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression. In August, the Governor announced multi-agency opposition to the federal government's proposal that would undermine discrimination protections for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals and limit the types of insurance that must comply with the Affordable Care Act's nondiscrimination protections. In June, the Governor signed legislation banning the use of the "gay and trans panic" defense in criminal proceedings. In January, Governor Cuomo signed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, landmark legislation that prohibits employers, educational institutions, landlords, creditors, and others from discrimination against individuals on the basis of gender identity or expression.