Defined Out of Existence

Krystelle Kurz


The identity of transgender people is at risk of erasure in the eyes of the government.

The New York Times released on Oct. 21 a memo from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) arguing that government agencies — such as Education, Justice and Labor — need to define an explicit definition for gender as “a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth” and to prove otherwise they would need to go under medical examining to determine so.

In the memo, the DHHS plans to present this updated definition of sex to the Department of Justice later this year. If the policy is adopted, it could roll back the Obama-era’s definition of sex, including gender identity, fluidity, federal civil rights protections for transgender and gender nonconforming people. This would limit transgender people from equal access to healthcare, education and employment. The proposal would affect over 1.4 million Americans.

Title IX

The biggest effect of this proposal would be in the protections of transgender people under Title IX. The federal civil rights law forbids discrimination based on sex to schools that receive federal funding. Because the law doesn’t explicitly define sex and it is up to the courts and the administration to determine those protections.

The Obama administration defined sex to include a person’s gender identity; however, this new memo proposes that they would not include transgender people as part of this definition.

Trump’s disregard for the transgender community has been apparent from the start.

His administration has reversed the protection of transgender workers from employment discrimination, where they were previously protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He also signed a directive to ban transgender military recruits, which was later struck down from a federal court.

This memo is one in a series of attempts from the Trump Administration to repress trans rights.

Implications on Students

The effects of the narrowing definition of gender is particularly visible in schools.

Some public schools provide a number of gender-segregated areas such as single-sex sports, locker rooms, classes and restrooms.

In 2017, SCC opened up their first all-gender restrooms in the PUB. The battle to establishing these restrooms wasn’t easy. There were many misconceptions and concerns regarding privacy.

There were three incidents of voyeurism earlier this year in the all-gender restrooms due to the lack of knowledge on how to best implement these restrooms. The installation of these restrooms were meant to combat the harassment of trans people in gender-segregated spaces.

According to the New York Times, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has been dismissing discrimination cases filed by transgender and gender non-conforming students over access to school facilities. The implementation of this memo would support the current Education Department’s approach and ignore more discrimination cases.

What’s Happening?

Since the memo has been released, the transgender community and its allies have been actively protesting against the continuing limitations on their rights. Activists are encouraging people to protest outside of the White House and share their support of the transgender community with #WontBeErased posts.

SCC’s Project Pride Club is planning to attend a meeting in which they can speak to the school administration directly about their concerns related to Title IX. Members in the Project Pride Club declined an interview.

What Can You Do?

Although current reports have left people feeling hopeless, there is still a chance to reverse the erasure of transgender rights.

Proposed changes to federal regulations go through periods of “notice and comments” where people can respond and comment directly to the government.

This can be done by mail and is open to anyone. Organizations such as the ACLU and the Transgender Law Center will be giving updates on when these notice periods happen.

Although this year’s election isn’t for the presidency, your state’s Representatives and Senators are your most direct connection to the federal government.



Transgender Law Center –