*Some names have been changed to protect identity
Many transgender people are infuriated and afraid for the present and the future as a leaked memo from the Trump Administration revealed tentative plans to redefine gender as strictly male or female.
The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, unchanging condition determined by genitalia at birth, in a move that would decrease recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.
The Obama administration previously loosened the legal definition of gender for federal programs purposes, but now this work could be reversed, based on an internal memo from the Department of Health and Human Services and obtained by the New York Times last month.
Now, the Trump administration is trying to define gender based on the Title IX legal language. Title IX laws are supposed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs or activities. However, using this definition, the Health Department wants to define sex as “a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.”
In other words, the administration plans on identifying any given person by the genitals that they were born with, and nothing else.
Alyx Clark is a fourteen-year-old from St. Paul, Minnesota. They said via Twitter DM that while growing up, they thought they had to look just like their mother. However, Clark said they eventually learned that they would rather look a little different, preferring a flat chest and narrower hips. While Clark wondered what it would be like to look different, they found that being a transgender person was a possibility through their Genders & Sexualities Alliance (GSA) club at school. This alliance provides support and acts as safe haven to students of different sexual orientations or gender identities.
Clark joined the alliance in middle school and realized that gender didn’t need to be so black and white — the brain may develop a person’s sexual orientation differently regardless of what the body physically represents. This inspired Clark to research the LGBTQ community more in-depth, especially the transgender community. They then decided to classify themself as non-binary, meaning that they don’t identify with either female or male.
Clark asks others to use the pronouns they/them when referring to them.
There are distinctions between transgender and non-binary. The term transgender encompasses many gender identities that don’t specifically identify with the sex in which someone was assigned with at birth. Non-binary is considered to be the same, being used as an umbrella term for all genders. But not all non-binary people identify as trans and transgender people don’t all identify as non-binary.
The Trump Administration memo could change Clark’s world and their way of life devastatingly, as well as many others like Clark. People may not have the opportunity to define their gender as freely as they were before, silencing their desire to express themselves in ways or forms that they truly wish to. It would essentially legally erase transgender people.
“It’s infuriating and it’s scary. There’s already so little legislation to protect us. ... If you accept us, now is the time to prove it.”
Cyra Kingsley, a 26-year-old from Scranton, PA, identifies as transgender and disagrees with the memo. She said she strongly believes that it’s important to vote, and contact representatives in Washington D.C. in order to have voices heard.
She said officials need to be aware that if they don’t serve their constituents, they will be voted out of office. One of these issues could be their refusal to protect the transgender community’s rights. Kingsley said that anyone that is associated with the community and would like to see it be protected needs to speak up.
“It’s infuriating and it’s scary,” Kingsley said. “There’s already so little legislation to protect us. One of the things that we need to do is band together. People who say that they support us need to prove it. Do anything that you can to help. If you accept us, now is the time to prove it.”
While people can still exercise their right to vote, the National Center for Transgender Equality records say that the government has already committed to removing legislation that protects non-binary and transgender people. This includes restricting their access to healthcare, limiting their ability to update identity documents such as licenses and birth certificates and restricting their access to bathrooms and single-sex restrooms. Another human and civil rights group, The Leadership Conference, cites that the administration has already failed to protect Title IX, along with Title VII which prohibits employment discrimination as well. The Trump administration has repealed some Obama Administration protections, such as allowing trans people to serve in the military and lifting restrictions that forced trans people to use public facilities that corresponded with their physical gender identity.
But as of today, universities are pushing back against the Trump Administration’s work to limit transgender rights. Instead, they are working to protect the rights of the LGBTQ community so that students can feel safe and accepted.
In 2017, Campus Pride ranked Ithaca College as a top 25 university for protecting the rights of transgender people. The college has gender neutral bathrooms so that transgender and non-binary people don’t have to be afraid of choosing a binary restroom. College advocates say they are aware that transgender people are often targeted and harassed through the intentional and repetitive use of the wrong pronouns. On Oct. 17, the college celebrated its first International Pronoun Day, a day in which encouraged others to respect someone’s personal pronoun.
“Using the right pronouns is a critical step in acknowledging the humanity of transgender people,” the organizer of the holiday, Luca Maurer said. Maurer is also the director of LGBTQ education at Ithaca College.
“Using the right pronouns is a critical step in acknowledging the humanity of transgender people.”
— Luca Maurer
Director of LGBTQ Education, Ithaca College
The holiday had several events that focused on normalizing the asking and sharing of a person’s personal pronouns. Alex Gray, a student at Ithaca College, identifies as a non-binary man, asking others to refer to him as he/him or with they/them pronouns. Gray participated in the event because he said he is supportive of the actions being taken to normalize pronoun usage.
“The pronoun day did help, but while trans people are accepted a lot on this campus, and pronouns are asked in classrooms sometimes, there’s still an assumption about pronouns based on appearances,” Gray said. “I think pronoun day was effective in a way that made more people aware of the fact that you can’t know someone’s pronouns unless you ask.”
Still, many transgender students and people are afraid about how the government will dictate their lives in the future.
“I’ve had people invalidate and tell me I was trying to be special, that I was making things up about my identity,” Kingsley said.
Kingsley advises other young people struggling to find their communities and seek support.
“I’m still struggling, but the best way to heal is to find your flock, find people who understand and will lift you up and hold your hand along the way. This is a terrifying time for us, truly. But one thing that we can’t do is back down. The trans community has overcome so much. We’re strong. We’re going to make it. We just need to keep fighting.”