The Trump administration announced that they may be narrowing the definition of gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, and any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing. This action is the most drastic move yet in a government-wide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law. The Obama administration loosened the legal concept of gender in federal programs, including in education and healthcare, recognizing gender largely as an individual’s choice and not determined by the sex assigned at birth. These policies prompted fights over bathrooms, dormitories, single-sex programs, and other areas where gender was once seen as a simple concept.
“We have a lot of different concepts right now. They have a lot of different things happening with respect to transgender right now,” Trump said during a protest outside the White House and responding to major criticism on social media about the proposal. When Trump was asked about a campaign promise to protect the LGBT community, Trump said: “I’m protecting everybody. I want to protect our country.”
The Department of Health and Human Services made an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance. The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The department has argued that the term “sex” was never meant to include gender identity or even homosexuality and that the lack of clarity allowed the Obama administration to wrongfully extend civil rights protections to people who should not have them.
This new plan would eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves — surgically or otherwise — as a gender other than the one they were born into.“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the department proposed in the memo,“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.”
“This takes a position that what the medical community understands about their patients — what people understand about themselves — is irrelevant because the government disagrees,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, who led the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights in the Obama administration and helped write the transgender guidance that is being undone.
After more than a year of discussions, health and human services is preparing to formally present the new definition to the Justice Department before the end of the year, Trump administration officials say. If the Justice Department decides that the change is legal, the new definition can be approved and enforced in Title IX statutes, and across government agencies.
The news drew condemnation from activists and advocacy groups. The American Civil Liberties Union threatened legal action. The National Center for Transgender Equality planned a protest outside the White House. “We #WontBeErased, we will fight back,” pledged the Transgender Law Center. Colleges, like ours at Muhlenberg, have officially reached out to students to show its support for the transgender community.