Sarah Elson, Contributing Writer
Jessica Cruz, Contributing Writer
The Trump administration is attempting to redefine gender as strictly biological — a move which could lead to the erasure of federal recognition of the 1.4 million Americans who identify as transgender.
The planned changes were leaked in a memo to The New York Times. According to the Times, the memo — spearheaded by the Department of Health and Human Services — states, “sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.”
The adjustments the Trump administration is looking to make would establish gender as unchangeable — “unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.” If the alterations are made, they would negate a 2014 memo stating sex discrimination “based on gender identity, including transgender status” would not be tolerated under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act protects employees from discrimination on the basis of race, color and religion, among other characteristics.
In order to achieve these changes, the Trump administration would have to make sweeping alterations to Title IX — which protects people from sex-based discrimination in federally-funded educational programs — and the aforementioned Title VII.
State governments can allot more civil protections than the federal government if they feel the federal government has not done enough. VCU political science professor John Aughenbaugh cited one Supreme Court case as an example.
“Some state courts, like Hawaii and Massachusetts, relying upon state constitutional language, recognized same-sex marriage equality years before the U.S. Supreme Court did in the Obergefell v. Hodges case,” Aughenbaugh said.
Moving toward a binary definition of gender would remove legal protections for people whose genders do not fit the societal norm.
Students from the Queer & Trans People of Color Collective at VCU said they were not surprised by the recent memo issued by the Trump administration.
“I think of this more as a scare tactic because Trump has been systematically working since he got to office to eradicate rights for trans and nonbinary folks,” said senior Khudai Tanveer of the QTPOC leadership board. “This memo is not anything that he has not already previously said.”
There have been numerous threats in recent years against the rights of transgender people. In February 2017, guidelines concerning how schools should protect transgender students under Title IX were removed. About one year later, in March 2018, the Trump administration made its plan to ban transgender people from serving in the military public.
As a result of the ongoing threats against transgender rights, protests and rallies have been held across the country in cities like New York City and Washington D.C. after the memo was released. Alongside the rallies, the hashtag #WontBeErased was created online. Transgender people have been sharing their personal stories on social media to gain support for their cause and to educate about the significance of voting.
“With any and every issue, social media can both being detrimental and empowering to social issues and the issue of the definition of gender is no exception,” said VCU sophomore Savannah Kent. “However, ultimately I think that social media has helped bring more awareness to this issue than there would have been.”
Kent said social media also makes people aware of protests and allows them to “hear the stories of the transgender community.”
Freshman Anthony Belotti has been working closely with Amnesty International at VCU to promote awareness and change in light of the memo.
“Marches and rallies are great,” Belotti said. “But when it comes down to [it], making sure that we are even holding our local officials accountable because they can also pass legislation.”