Human Rights - Politics

Trump Administration Proposes Narrowing the Legal Definition of Gender

Published on October 21, 2018 by Athena Pallas

In what many view as a further attempt to undermine the civil rights gains made by the transgender community, the Trump administration has proposed narrowing the legal definition of gender to what appears on a person’s birth certificate based on the genitalia they have at birth. Under the proposal made by the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services, only genetic testing would be considered as a rebuttal to gender information on one’s birth certificate, which would be otherwise unchangeable. This proposal stands in direct opposition to permitting people to have a choice in changing their legal gender based on their own sense of their gender, and essentially denies the existence of transgender people and people who identify as non-binary in terms of gender.

Given the Trump administration’s attempts to bar transgender people from military service, which has been met with multiple successful court challenges, perhaps the administration thinks if they deny the existence of transgender people by making government agencies use a much narrower definition of gender, and force people to use facilities according to that legal definition of gender, they can have another way of keeping transgender people out of military service. The proposal, if implemented, would remove protections for some 1.4 million transgender Americans that were established during the Obama administration. According to The Hill:

The Trump administration is weighing a change that would require individuals to identify as male or female based on their genitalia at birth, tightening gender definitions that had offered more leeway to transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, The New York Times reported Sunday. The Department of Health and Human Services proposed in a memo obtained by the news outlet that government agencies adopt a definition of gender that is determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The change would base sex on the genitals a person is born with. “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,” the memo states, according to the Times.

If this proposal is implemented it is expected to be met with widespread opposition from LGBTQ advocacy groups and other civil rights organizations. The narrow definition of gender is expected to be presented to the Justice Department by year’s end. If there is such an official proposal, it will likely be met with multiple legal challenges on the basis of its legality in order to try to stop the change from being approved and enforced.

The Trump administration continues to show a lack of understanding on this issue. You don’t have to be transgender to understand how difficult it must be to feel that there is a mismatch between the gender on your birth certificate and your sense of self, and how difficult and painful it must be to be faced with a government that would try to confine you to the gender on your birth certificate, no matter what you think and feel, especially after the previous administration had made strides in transgender civil rights. A loss to the civil rights of anyone is a loss to the civil rights of everyone.

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Featured image by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.