A rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in fall 2019 leaves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender older adults “especially vulnerable” as the country confronts the coronavirus pandemic, elder advocacy group SAGE and two other groups said Thursday in announcing a lawsuit against the federal agency.

SAGE was joined by Family Equality and True Colors United in the legal action, filed by Democracy Forward and Lambda Legal.

The three groups maintain that the proposed rule, announced Nov. 1, weakens the protections contained in a broad range of HHS-funded programs. “Simultaneously, HHS announced that it would no longer enforce its current anti-discrimination protections that govern HHS grants,” the groups said. “Today’s complaint charges that HHS violated the law by not providing the public any notice or an opportunity to comment on its refusal to uphold nondiscrimination rules.”

By not enforcing anti-discrimination protections against federal grantees that deny services to, or otherwise discriminate against, individuals, the groups said, HHS implicitly permits discrimination in the provision of critical services. For instance, they said, a federally funded adult day services provider could put a sign on the door saying, “No Trans People May Enter,” entities administering falls prevention grants could choose to serve only straight people at risk of falling, and LGBT older adults could be subjected to harassment or, times such as disease outbreaks, be refused services such as home-delivered meals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Now more than ever, we see the critical role that the federal government must play to protect the most vulnerable and at-risk members of society,” SAGE CEO Michael Adams said. “Ensuring that all older people have access to critical aging services and supports free from discrimination is vital for the health and well-being of LGBT elders.”