The White House has been seeking to chip away at transgender rights ever since Donald Trump became president. And now, in what would amount to the most extreme move to date, a new set of rules is being proposed that would essentially pretend as if transgender people simply don’t exist.
The Department of Health and Human Services is leading an effort to set up an explicit definition of sex under federal civil rights law that bans discrimination on gender in education programs, known as Title IX. In a memo obtained by the New York Times, the department calls on government agencies to adopt a definition of gender as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” Unsurprisingly, the agency is seeking to define sex as either male or female, which would be unchangeable and simply determined by the genitals the person has at the moment of birth. If there’s any kind of dispute or disagreement about someone’s sex, it would have to be determined by genetic testing.
“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” reads the memo, according to the 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.”
The Department of Health and Human Services is calling on four key agencies that deal with some part of Title IX—the Departments of Education, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor—to implement the change in the hopes that it would increase the chances that it could withstand any legal challenge. If implemented, the proposed change in policy would affect some 1.4 million Americans who identify as transgender. “This takes a position that what the medical community understands about their patients—what people understand about themselves—is irrelevant because the government disagrees,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, who led the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights in the Obama administration.
This is hardly the first time the White House has targeted transgender people, delving into an issue that fires up conservatives, particularly evangelical Christians. A few months after he took office, Trump took to Twitter to say he would ban trans individuals from serving in the U.S.
military “in any capacity.” Earlier this year, the Bureau of Prisons issued new guidelines that called for “biological sex and not gender identity to be the determining factor to assign housing and bathrooms.
Rights groups and activists quickly spoke up against the proposed new rule. “Setting a destructive precedent, the Trump-Pence administration intends to erase LGBTQ people from federal civil rights protections and eviscerate enforcement of non-discrimination laws,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said. “Defining ‘sex’ in this narrow language tailored to the talking points of anti-equality extremists is part of a deliberate strategy to eliminate federal protections for LGBTQ people. This is a direct attack on the fundamental equality of LGBTQ people.”