Trans rights at risk following new White House memo

The Trump Administration releases health memo containing a proposal to change terms of gender definition


Photo illustration by The Easterner

By Dylan Harris, News Editor

The Trump administration may attempt to deliver yet another blow to the transgender community.

In a Department of Health and Human Services memo obtained by The New York Times, it is proposed that the legal definition of gender needs to be determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.”

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“The scariest part is that we don’t know what the impact would be.””

— Nick Franco, Pride Center Manager

The proposal, should it become a policy, would be the latest and potentially most impactful effort by the Trump administration to narrow, or in this case essentially eliminate, the rights and recognition of transgender people.

“I find it odd the White House would want to define gender [in a way] that contradicts what’s kind of widely accepted in social, psychological, medical research,” Pride Center manager Nick Franco said. “The scariest part is that we don’t know what the impact would be.”

The proposal states that gender needs to be defined as immutable, meaning it can’t be changed. Franco said they are concerned about what this aspect of the definition would mean for people who are already transgender, or are already undergoing hormone treatment or surgical procedures.

Changing the legal definition of gender in this proposed manner would have a major effect on how data, some of which may be used to make policy decisions, is gathered. The proposed gender definition change would ultimately make it so transgender people don’t exist, at least from a legal perspective.

“One way to control people is to define them […] entirely out of existence, because then we don’t need to care about them,” Franco said. “We won’t have to collect data on that anymore, so we won’t be able to see the number of trans people who might be murdered in the U.S. from police reports.”

Whether or not the proposal has any chance of becoming policy remains unclear. Franco said they think it may just be a talking point intended to influence voters ahead of the midterm elections.

“Social-psychological research has proven that the more you create fear around a certain group of people, the more conservative that group will become. […] People take on more conservative values,” Franco said.

The transgender community faces arguably as much or more discrimination than other minority groups in the U.S. Some of this discrimination comes in the forms of verbal and physical abuse, while other instances come from lack of recognition, whether that be by individuals, government agencies, businesses or schools.

“Two percent of the people in the U.S. are intersex, but they don’t get their own category,” Franco said. “Two percent of the population are redheads, [but] we don’t lump redheads in with blondes or brunettes, they get their own category. [Some people] don’t have that same sort of mindset when it comes to biological sex.”

Trump has often been criticized by the media for his rhetoric. After package bombs were sent to the addresses of many of Trump’s opponents and critics, members of the media and some politicians placed some of the blame on Trump because of his rhetoric that some say promotes violence and hate.

Franco said they think the Trump administration wants to instill fear in his base toward transgender people.

“Trans people are often more scared to be in public spaces than cis people are of trans people being in public spaces,””

— Nick Franco, Pride Center Manager

In response to the memo, over 1,600 scientists have signed a letter condemning the proposal. The letter states, “This proposal is fundamentally inconsistent not only with science, but also with ethical practices, human rights and basic dignity.” It also claims the proposal “is in no way ‘grounded in science.’”

The Trump administration has proposed numerous controversial ideas. As to whether this particular proposal becomes a reality, that remains to be seen.