By: Ken Jensen
On October 24, 2018, President Trump stated his administration was “seriously” considering changing the way it treats transgender people under the law. Given his history of statements which never come to fruition, one could dismiss it. The effort this administration to negate any effort to define gender identity in any manner besides biology should come as no surprise; it follows the Administration’s orchestration of policies designed to engage in culture wars from the Muslim Ban to the Family Separation policy.
The Department of Health and Human Services proposes to reverse course and define a person’s sex as male or female based on “immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.” The proposal indicates “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.”
This latest news follows reports earlier in the year that Trump is proposing changes to military service for transgender persons. The question of whether gender identity — rather than biological gender — can be used for protection under federal civil rights laws such as Title IX, which bans sex discrimination, continues within the courts. Courts are split on the issue and the question will most likely be heard by the Supreme Court – now with a substantial conservative majority. Moreover, the Justice Department reversed its position on the application of Title IX last year.
Some estimate 1.4 million Americans recognize themselves as other than their biological sex. The new proposal to change policy, would essentially “erase” these people in the law. (One thinks of the new aptly titled movie based on the memoir by Gerrard Conley, “Boy Erased”). A core identity of these people’s understanding of themselves is once again by definition, illegitimate.
It is easy to see Trump’s latest statement – only two weeks from midterm elections that Trump himself has defined about himself – as mere politics. Once again, he uses real human condition as a trope, a symbol, hoping to motivate his base to get out and vote. It works. Only a casual review of the Internet shows that particularly the “evangelical” base seems elated. (There are serious rifts within the “evangelical” movement, but among conservatives, the Trump alliance seems to be holding.)
But the human casualties – sometimes literal – demands more than a dismissive response. While the latest appears to be a retreat, let’s not forget that the last decade has witnessed significant cultural change. Progress has occurred. That we would “seriously” consider defining gender in ways other “immutable biological traits” would have been unheard of just a decade ago. I hope that when the culture continues to hear the real stories of the human condition, progress will solidify into a new norm. So I plead with people who define themselves as transgender. Please do not retreat into silence. We desperately need to hear your stories. There are many of us who stand in solidarity with you.