In the Trump administration's latest attempt to roll back Obama era decisions regarding civil rights, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is working to "establish a legal definition of sex," according to The New York Times. Should this legal definition be passed, trans people all across America would be forced to identify as the sex they were assigned at birth instead of their gender. This is a scary prospect for any trans and LGBTQ+ person — especially kids. So here's how to fight the Trump administration's new policy on defining gender and protect trans kids' futures.
This weekend, The New York Times reportedly obtained a memo from the HHS explaining the decision. The department wants to establish the definition under Title IX, which is the 1972 act that protects people from gender discrimination within educational programs, according to The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). “Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the HHS memo read, according to The New York Times. “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."
Basically, the HHS is trying to conflate gender with sex, and say that people's gender identity must match up with the sex they were assigned at birth. As TIME explained, "The department reportedly favors a uniform definition of sex as a fixed matter, determined as either male or female by genitalia at birth."
Sex describes a person's biological sex that a doctor declared based on genitalia when they were born, while gender is the way individuals experience and present themselves, as Refinery29 explained. While a person's sex can be defined by looking at their chromosomes, gender does not work the same way. Vox spoke with Jack Turban, gender identity researcher and resident psychiatric physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, in wake of this news, and he very succinctly explained why gender cannot be scientifically defined in the way that the HHS is attempting:
There is no "scientific definition" of gender. Things like anatomy and chromosomes just don’t cut it. The only way to know someone’s gender is to ask them.
If this definition were to become a law, it would be absolutely devastating for transgender people. According to a 2016 study by the Williams Institute, an estimated 1.4 million adults identify as transgender in the United States. That statistic does not include children, meaning the actual statistic of people who would be affected by this law is even higher.
There are so many things you can do to help trans adults and kids in the wake of this news — and to make sure that this law does not get passed. And fortunately, as Out magazine published, Chase Strangio of the ACLU put together a list of ways to be active in fighting the passing of this law. Here are a few suggestions from Strangio's list and from other helpful sources on the internet.
1. Donate To Organizations That Support & Are Led By Trans People
While there are many amazing organizations fighting for the rights of LGBTQ+ people, organizations led by trans and nonbinary people are the most important ones to support right now. Strangio suggests checking out lists of organizations who are fighting for trans rights on the Borealis Philanthropy’s Fund for Trans Generations' website. The list includes several organizations that specifically work to protect trans youth, including Stonewall Youth, Trans Student Educational Resources, and The Trevor Project.
2. Make Sure You're Educated On Your Local Candidates
Firstly, make sure you're registered to vote for Nov. 6, and that you know your polling place (which you can check by visiting vote.org). Then, research the candidates on your ballot, and make sure to vote for the ones who will protect the rights of trans people. (Lifehacker has a few suggestions on how to research this.)
3. Educate Your Family & Friends On The Issues
With the election just around the corner, you may be wondering if your family and friends are educated on which candidates will support civil rights for trans people. The only way to do this is by calling up said family and friends, and telling them about a way they can support the LGBTQ+ community. Strangio suggests contacting three people in your life about this.
4. Canvass Using The Socratic Method
As Vox reported, a 2016 study called "Durably reducing transphobia: A field experiment on door-to-door canvassing" determined the Socratic method to be particularly effective when speaking to anti-trans people during canvassing. By asking open-ended questions and letting the voter share their thoughts for most of the conversation, canvassers have found a lot of success in changing minds on trans issues.
5. Spread Awareness For Massachusetts' Yes on 3 Campaign
A campaign called Yes on 3 is encouraging Massachusetts voters to vote "yes" on Question 3 of their ballot this November. According to the campaign's website, the proposed law will add gender identity to the list of "prohibited grounds for discrimination" in public places, therefore making gender discrimination against trans and nonbinary people illegal statewide. Other grounds already protected by the law include race, religion, sex, etc. If you have friends who live in Massachusetts, make sure to encourage them to vote "yes" on Question 3.
6. Fight On Behalf Of Trans Kids
It goes without saying that it's the duty of adults to fight for trans kids, who are too young to vote and to fully understand the issues that endanger them. Vanessa Ford, whose 7-year-old daughter Ellie came out as transgender on her 4th birthday, spoke with Gay Star News about how she and her husband are fighting for the rights of her daughter and "the entire community."
"We try not to share the major news [with Ellie]. But we will continue to fight it on her behalf," Ford told Gay Star News. "She’s too young to understand those things without becoming too fearful about it. Ellie knows very little, other than Trump is somebody who puts things in place that aren’t kind to brown people and are not kind to transgender people."
There are so many ways to advocate for the rights of trans people. And between the HHS' latest proposition and the upcoming election, now is more important than ever to fight.