In October of 2018, the New York Times obtained a memo from the Department of Health and Human Services — an arm of the government under the umbrella of, and therefore controlled by, the executive branch. The memo stated that government agencies would be required to adopt an “explicit and uniform” definition of gender, as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.”
This statement is problematic in and of itself for a number of reasons, not least of which is the attempt to use a guise of limited and selective “science” to corroborate discriminatory policy (the historical practice of ‘phrenology’ comes to mind). The Obama administration had previously broadened the legal definition of gender to include recognition of an individual’s gender identity, supporting trans peoples’ rights across the country. As we all remember, this concerted effort was met with serious backlash among Republican lawmakers, who drafted so-called “bathroom bills” in response in an attempt to invalidate a group of people they saw as different from themselves, and therefore not worthy of protection under the law.
The departmental memo defines sex as “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” which completely ignores even the word gender. The department has in fact been arguing specifically that the term “sex” was never meant to include gender identity, and that Obama extended federal protections to the over 1.4 million transgender Americans unconstitutionally.
To the Trump administration, the substantial evidence within the professional medical community that gender is an important part of a person’s identity and concept of self clearly does not warrant recognition. How you convince someone of otherwise, I do not know. To paraphrase a quote by Jonathan Swift, “it is impossible to reason someone out of a belief they did not reason themselves into.”
President Trump at one point campaigned on a promise to “fight” for the LGBTQ community, arguing that he would do so while Hillary was going to “[bring] in more people that will threaten [the LGBT community’s] freedoms and beliefs.” I guess his actions inevitably surprised no one, but it’s still poignant to think about just how blatantly he lied to the world. Civil rights groups are left fighting tooth and nail to have trans people recognized as human beings — a saddeningly-low bar if there ever was one. If the Trump administration is successful in drafting legislation to narrowly define gender (not unlike Congress did for marriage in 1996), Title IX statutes (federal laws guaranteeing gender equality) would exclude all transgender individuals from federal protection.
It strikes me as incredible that in 2018 we’re even having a conversation about whether or not a given group of people should be entitled to basic human rights, but alas, here we are.
The answer, by the way? Yes. Yes they should be.