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The Silent Killers: How the Trump Administration is Covertly Harming the Lives of The Transgender Youth Population

The Trump Administration has introduced a tremendous amount of executive orders and legislative blows to civil rights during “The Donald’s” tenure as President of the United States. Some of Trump’s restrictions on civil rights have faced great media attention, while others, such as his new idea for the re-definition of sex as correlating with gender identity, have not been recognized for the impact they could potentially make on American society. Both the transgender military ban and the proposed definition of sex from the Department of Health and Human Services could have a tremendous effect on the transgender community—especially trans youth. When an administration openly discriminates against a specific group, it invites the general public to discriminate against that group as well. This systematic and social discrimination endured by the transgender community at the peak of socialization will have long-lasting effects on their lives. If drastic measures are not taken to lobby against these executive orders and campaigns, the future for transgender individuals will be incredibly socially isolating and restricting.

Gender identity has long been an area of question, and there are many different theories as to how children come to realize and fall into the roles of their gender. For example, Sigmund Freud believed that children determined their gender identity simply based on whether he or she had a penis or not. As one might expect, this theory of gender identity has faced great criticism, and most sociologists believe that gender identity goes beyond one’s anatomy. While no one yet knows how exactly one comes to understand his or her gender, others have argued that gender identity comes from the attachment a child has to his or her parents. For example, Nancy Chodorow believes that girls stay closer to their mothers because they are able to continue showing affection towards and imitating them. Boys, on the other hand, gain a sense of self by fundamentally rejecting what they watch their mother doing. Thankfully, many people, not just sociologists, agree that gender comes down to more than genitalia. The Trump Era, however, has  dramatically altered what many people take for fact.

The somewhat evolved definition of gender that was legislatively birthed out of the Obama era is being threatened by the Trump administration. Trump’s administration is trying to reduce the very definition of gender to an anatomical difference. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed a memo stating, “Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth. The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.” The problem with this definition of sex is that it does not recognize the fluidity of gender, instead reducing one’s identity to his or her genitalia. While sex and gender are starting to have more definitive definitions that do not necessarily correlate with one another, many people still regard sex and gender as the same thing. HHS, under the direction of Trump, is reversing the progression America made under Obama in the difference between sex and gender by referring to gender as something that is genetically assigned at birth. HHS’ plan to introduce this definition of sex is part of a ploy to refine who Title IX can support. During President Obama’s tenure, Title IX, the civil rights law that protects against gender-based discrimination in federally financed education programs, extended to transgender people. This new definition of sex under HHS would put an end to that extension and simultaneously eliminate federal recognition of approximately 1.4 million Americans that currently do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth.

HHS is advocating to extend this definition of sex to the Departments of Education, Justice, and Labor in an effort to establish uniformity and therefore increase the chances of courts accepting the policy. If these four departments officially adopt the proposed definition of sex, the effects will be detrimental. For example, Department of Education members under Obama believed that students should be able to use the bathroom of the gender they identified as. Obama administrators believed that this right was protected under Title IX; however, Trump’s administration does not.

Trump administration spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill illuminates the fact that her own administration is discriminating against transgender individuals by preventing  them from using the bathroom of their choice, but she states that this policy “is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX.” Hill is openly admitting to discriminating against transgender people, which is a concerning topic to be transparent about as it could encourage everyday Americans to do the same. Furthermore, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions has even publicly stated that the civil rights law does not protect transgender workers—only the discrepancies dealt with between men and women. The Trump Administration is trying to tie this definition of sex into laws that will give them a stronger base for their transgender military ban, which will be detrimental if it sticks.

While the transgender community has faced a series of blows to their rights, perhaps the area in which they are receiving the most media attention is the military ban. On July 26, 2017, Trump announced via Twitter that, “The United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” This tweet, which was the first time many top military officials heard about the ban, shocked the public and faced immediate pushback.

Historically, there has been a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. It was thought that transgender people were either mentally or physically unfit for active duty, and there was legislation in place barring their participation in the armed forces. However, Rear Admiral Alan Steinman and former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders co-wrote a report that found there was no medical reasoning for banning transgender individuals from the military. It was also thought that transgender soldiers could bare a fiscal burden on the military because of their loftier medical needs; a line of thinking that was also disproved given that transgender troops make up such a small portion of the military’s population. Furthermore, a study conducted by the RAND Corporation found that transgender troops would have a minute impact on force readiness and cohesiveness. It was with these studies in mind that the Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter announced in June of 2016 that the Obama Administration was putting an end to the transgender military ban. Unfortunately, Jim Mattis, the former Secretary of Defense under Trump, was able to undermine this announcement because Carter did not put a plan in place for accommodating transgender military personnel before the end of Obama’s tenure.

Jim Mattis argued that the survey conducted by the RAND corporation had significant shortcomings, such as glossing over finances, and therefore stated that its findings should be disregarded. His report focuses a great deal on gender dysphoria, which is an anxiety disorder that some transgender individuals are diagnosed with. Mattis emphasizes that those with gender dysphoria are not welcome to serve, as he deems they pose a credible threat to readiness and lethality. However, Mattis does recognize that transgender soldiers who are not diagnosed with gender dysphoria should be allowed to serve. The caveat is they would be forced to serve “in their biological sex.”

Forcing transgender soldiers to serve in the sex they were assigned at birth is not only unethical, but, frankly, foolish. If current transgender soldiers continue to serve after they have already transitioned, it is most likely that that would be a catalyst to gender dysphoria; the very thing that the administration is trying to avoid. Gender dysphoria comes about by one being physically incredibly uncomfortable in the body he or she was born in. Many transgender people do not have gender dysphoria simply because they have been able to transition. If the Secretary of Defense’s plan takes a long lasting effect, the government will essentially be creating anxiety disorders in soldiers that never had that issue before. The military ban also serves as further evidence to the trans community that their government does not support them, and opens the door to further discrimination.

The perils of the proposed new definition of sex can also be exemplified by the transgender bathroom issue that occurred at the very beginning of Trump’s tenure, but unfortunately, the discomfort trans students face in school goes far beyond the restroom. The fact of the matter is that 59 percent of transgender students have been denied the right to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with, and according to a study conducted by GLSEN, an astonishing 75 percent of trans students feel unsafe at their schools. Those transgender students who were recorded as feeling less safe were more likely to miss school, have a lower GPA, and discontinue their education on account of being too scared to attend classes. Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of the study is the point transgender students made of not only being frightened by their peers, but faculty and administrators as well. School officials have been recorded refusing to address students by their desired gender pronouns, and even punishing them for not conforming to typical gender identities. The survey further highlights that many trans youths cannot focus at school because they are too enveloped in worrying about impending punishment and harassment. Trans Equality’s website stated that, “Together with bullying and victim-blaming, these conflicts can lead to disproportionate discipline, school pushout, and involvement in the juvenile justice system.”

Given the ambiguous and conflicting theories on the correlation between sex and gender identity, the Trump Administration was able to exploit the Obama-era stance on the transgender military ban and purposely ignore important policy issues, such as which bathrooms trans students should be allowed to use. The administration is openly discriminating against a vulnerable group, which tells the general public that it is okay for them to discriminate against the transgender community as well, creating a crisis for trans individuals. The Trump Administration is not explicitly encouraging the mistreatment of transgender individuals, but their policies implicitly indicate that that is their goal. This tolerated discrimination coupled with their underlying message of inequality leads to bullying, which causes irreparable psychological harm. If Trump’s  policies do not change soon, they could cause permanent damage to the trans youth.


Katharine is the Co-Campus Correspondent of the Her Campus Brown chapter. She is a Junior concentrating in Public Policy.
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