Civil rights rollback

Trump administration moves to officially define gender based on sex assigned at birth

Demonstrators hold signs during "Stand Up for Transgender Rights" event to show their support for transgender equality, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. February 25, 2017. (REUTERS/Kamil Krzacznski)

According to a disturbing report in The New York Times, the Trump administration is taking steps to rigidly define gender based on genitalia and sex assigned at birth. Should officials move forward, the expansion of transgender rights that took place under former President Barack Obama would be dramatically curtailed.

The Times obtained a memo that has been circulating within the Department of Health and Human Services since last spring, proposing that government agencies establish a legal definition of gender under Title IX, a federal law that prohibits gender-based discrimination in government-funded educational institutions.

“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the memo reads. “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.”

Genetic testing, in other words, could be required to resolve legal disputes over gender. “The new definition would essentially 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,” the Times writes.

The Obama administration previously implemented a number of policies that recognized a more fluid definition of gender, offering federal protections to people who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, including transgender people. Trump officials have already taken steps to roll back on those policies, withdrawing federal protections for transgender students at public schools, implementing barriers to health care access for LGBTQ patients, and rescinding protections for transgender prisoners.

The Department of Health and Human services has argued that the term “sex” should not include gender identity, and that Obama-era policies have extended civil rights protections to those who otherwise wouldn’t have them, the Times reports. Officials cited a 2016 ruling by Judge Reed O’Connor of the Federal District Court in Fort Worth, Texas, who has ruled that “Congress did not understand ‘sex’ to include ‘gender identity.’” Other courts, however, have ruled that anti-transgender bias constitutes sex discrimination.

“Transgender people are frightened,” Sarah Warbelow, the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, told the Times. “At every step where the administration has had the choice, they’ve opted to turn their back on transgender people.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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