DignityUSA Letter on Plan to Allow Exclusion of LGBTQ+ Elders from Nutrition Programs

December 18, 2019


Secretary Alex Azar

Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, DC 20201


Dear Secretary Azar,   

DignityUSA represents the majority of American Catholics who support justice, equality and full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQ+) people in our church and in society. I am writing to express our strong objection to the proposal to remove protections for LGBTQ+ elders who participate in nutrition service programs all across this country.

Congregate meal sites and home-delivered meal programs provide nutrition and social supports that can literally be lifelines for over 11 million older adults in communities across our country. In addition to healthy meals, these programs offer socialization and wellness checks that are vital to the participants.

LGBTQ+ elders are often among the most vulnerable. Many have no family support and LGBTQ+ elders are more likely than others to be in poverty. These programs are critically important to them. Allowing federally funded nutrition programs to refuse services based on sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status will put tens of thousands of elders at risk.

DignityUSA feels a special responsibility to weigh in on this proposal because many congregate and home-delivered senior meal programs are sponsored by Catholic institutions, including parishes and Catholic Charities. While many of these organizations are committed to welcoming all in need, we have seen exclusion of LGBTQ+ people by Catholic and other faith-based organizations. Those that want to discriminate often do so on the basis of “moral or religious objections.” Reinforcing their ability to do so through regulation will harm many vulnerable elders in the LGBTQ+ community and will erode the progress towards being full members of society many of them have worked for decades to achieve. 

We strongly urge you to withdraw this proposal and ensure that all older adults in America have equal access to the nutrition services guaranteed them through the Older Americans Act.


Marianne Duddy-Burke

Executive Director, DignityUSA