HHS nixes plan to eliminate LGBT questions from elder survey

By : Chris Johnson of The Washington Blade, courtesy of the National Gay Media Association
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The Department of Health & Human Services has reversed itself on a plan to eliminate questions allowing LGBT elders to identify their sexual orientation from a federal health survey amid pressure from LGBT advocates and members of Congress.

In a Federal Register notice set for publication on Thursday, HHS declared it made minor adjustments to plans to change the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants, such as “retaining the primary question regarding sexual orientation.”

According to the notice, the Administration for Community Living changed its mind on eliminating the question after receiving comments in response to the proposal from 89 organizations and more than 13,9000 individuals.

“The majority of the comments that ACL received expressed the need to retain demographic questions on sexual orientation/gender identity,” the notice says.

By saying HHS has decided to retain “the primary question regarding sexual orientation,” the notice suggests HHS will keep a question allowing respondents to identify their sexual orientation, but still eliminate a question allowing them to identify as transgender.

The department reverses itself on plans to eliminate the questions after publishing in March a plan to eliminate them in the Federal Register, the daily journal of the U.S. government that includes rule changes.

The notice provided a link to descriptions of previous surveys and a link to a proposed draft of the 2017 survey, incorrectly saying there will “no change” to the new survey. But a look at the survey reveals a change: The elimination of a question on whether respondents identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, which had been included in each annual survey since 2014.

At the time, HHS said the LGBT questions were part of a pilot test and removed because the sample response “has not been sufficient enough to date to allow for reliability and reporting.”

The planned elimination of the questions prompted outrage from LGBT advocates, who said the removal of questions effectively erases LGBT elders from federal health programming, as well as letters objecting to the change from 49 U.S. House members led by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and 19 U.S. senators led by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

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