By Cassidy Barnett, Staff Writer—
This past Sunday, the New York Times broke the news that an unreleased memo they had obtained from the Department of Health and Human Services contains information that an effort is being made to establish a new legal definition of gender under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that is supposed to ban sex and gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance.
The Trump administration wants to alter the definition of gender to mean “a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” and the only identities to choose from are either male or female.
Essentially, putting that definition into effect would mean discrimination against transgender people and any other gender-based discrimination would not be legally recognized nor would trans people be protected under Title IX, because the Trump administration does not view these people’s identities or life experiences as valid.
Key government agencies would need to adopt this definition as well, including the Department of Education, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Labor. The Department of Health and Human Services is preparing to formally present the new definition to the Department of Justice before the end of the year.
This proposal is highly problematic for many reasons. To start, the proposal completely ignores proven scientific facts embraced by major organizations like the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association.
A common misconception is that gender and sex are interchangeable terms. The truth is that sex is biological, and gender is performative. Sex is the category that a human is placed into based on their reproductive functions—typically either male, female, or intersex (which is when a person is born with sex characteristics that are neither completely male nor female, but somewhere in between.)
Gender is the way a person performs their sex—either in a masculine, feminine, or nonbinary (falling outside of masculine or feminine) way. Gender is fluid, not fixed, and depends on social and cultural norms. Different cultures and societies express gender differently.
Therefore, it simply doesn’t make sense to define gender as a biological, unchangeable trait.
So what does this proposition mean for American citizens, particularly members of the LGBTQIA community? Why was it made?
To put it bluntly, the definition change, if it were to be accepted, would make it legal and therefore far easier to discriminate against the LGBTQIA community, specifically trans people. Essentially “erasing” trans folk under the law would mean that if, for example, a student was discriminated against on campus (in something like a sport or other programs where gender identity comes into play) on the basis of them being trans, the law would not protect them.
Besides lack of legal protection, discrimination can also mean harassment, violence, barriers to healthcare, and poverty.
There are approximately 1.4 million people who identify as transgender in the United States, not including people who have yet to come out. A trans person is someone whose gender identity is different from what is associated with their sex assigned at birth.
Trans people’s identities are valid, yet they will no doubt face discrimination in this country’s current political climate. If they are not protected by the law, they could face even worse repercussions than they are already currently facing for just being who they are.
There is no valid reason to take these proposed actions other than a severe misunderstanding of human biology and sexuality and the desire to make life harder for others whose identities and lives are not understood.
Whether you understand what it means to be transgender or not, you must agree that no person in the United States deserves to be discriminated against. The proposal to disclude trans folk from being protected under Title IX is an attack against and a disregard for them and their well-being from the Trump administration, and it’s dangerous and morally wrong, plain and simple.
As someone who does not identify as trans, I find it imperative to mention that I am an intersectional feminist and I am not speaking for trans people, but rather raising awareness and informing others on a dangerous issue, and attempting to lift the voices of trans people who may not be heard.
If these issues concern you as well and you are a student at UTC, I encourage you to attend a Spectrum meeting. Spectrum is UTC’S LGBTQIA activist and social group on campus. They meet every Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the Women’s Center, located on the third floor of the UC.
It’s 2018. As a society, we are at a point in human history where there should be no excuse for discrimination of any kind in the United States. Discrimination goes against the very foundations of what this country is supposed to be. Unfortunately, under our current administration it would seem that this behavior has more space to thrive.
The best action we can take now to minimize the harm done to the LGBTQIA community and other marginalized people, besides pushing awareness of these issues to our family, friends, and communities, is to vote—so don’t forget to on Nov. 6th. People’s livelihoods, and lives, truly depend on it.