US Dept. of Agriculture Updates Nondiscrimination Regulations
Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released an updated version of the nondiscrimination regulations that guide their programs and activities. There were three important changes made to the existing regulations that include: an agency requirement to collect inform on race, ethnicity, and gender for all of its applicants and participants of programs, the establishment of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services, and the establishment of explicit protection on the basis of political beliefs and gender identity. NCTE welcomes the explicit nondiscrimination protection on the basis of gender identity USDA operated programs and activities. This added protection sets a clear standards for USDA offices and programs in every state in the nation, and gives customers who believe that they have been discriminated against due to their gender identity a basis upon which to file an administrative complaint. Due to continuing, widespread bias and discrimination, transgender people today face disproportionate levels of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and victimization. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, nearly one-third of transgender people report having experienced discrimination in a government office or program on at least one occasion. At present, many of the states with large rural communities served by USDA programs are the same states in which there is no explicit statewide nondiscrimination protection, and in which it is most difficult for transgender people to update state-issued identification.
While these regulation updates are a victory for transgender people, we recognize the importance of LGBT people’s ability to access the full range of programs under USDA’s jurisdiction, including critical nutrition programs that serve millions of people. These include the SNAP (food stamp) program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Unfortunately, transgender people still experience harassment, biased rejection of their identity documents, or other forms of discrimination when applying for nutrition benefits. These programs serve millions of needy and often vulnerable individuals who depend upon effective and unbiased program administration by State and private agencies. To this end, NCTE and other LGBT advocates are calling on USDA to extend LGBT nondiscrimination protections to all programs funded and overseen by USDA. We welcome USDA’s announcement that it is researching and considering such regulatory update, and we will continue to comment and use our resources to ensure that these protections are extended.