The Department of Health and Human Services's proposed new definition of gender would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who recognize themselves as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.
Activists in the LGBT community mobilized a fast and fierce campaign Sunday to say transgender people cannot be expunged from society, in response to an unreleased Trump administration memo that proposes a strict definition of gender based on a person’s genitalia at birth.
The existence of the memo, the administration’s latest effort to roll back the recognition and protection of transgender people under federal civil rights law, was reported by The New York Times on Sunday morning.
Within hours, the hashtag #WontBeErased circulated on social media. By Sunday evening, a rally for transgender rights took place in New York; another was planned for Monday in Washington.
“You saw such a massive response because this attack on the trans community is essentially trying to erase the trans community from the face of this country and we’re not going to stand for that,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and chief executive of GLAAD, an advocacy group for LGBT people.
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The Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government funding, according to the memo obtained by The Times. The new definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable and determined by the genitals a person is born with. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.
Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights at the department, had declined to answer detailed questions about the memo.
The new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who recognize themselves as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said, “This is a really intrusive policy that doesn’t make any sense scientifically.”
She said she and her staff woke up Sunday to the news of the memo and quickly planned a response. The hashtag #WontBeErased felt appropriate to them.
“What this feels like to transgender people is trying to make us invisible, trying to say that we don’t exist, trying to say that we are nothing,” she said.
The hashtag took off on social media, as people posted photos of themselves or family members to show the faces of transgender people — who, they noted, would continue to exist regardless of the government’s definition of gender.
On Sunday evening, supporters said, a few hundred people gathered at Washington Square Park in New York City to endorse transgender rights. The crowd included high-profile advocates such as Sara Ramirez, known for her role in “Grey’s Anatomy,” and Indya Moore, who is transgender and plays a transgender woman on the FX show “Pose.”
Another rally was scheduled to take place outside the White House on Monday.
The policy that was proposed in the memo would be among the most significant efforts to reverse the Obama administration’s more fluid recognition of gender identity. The Trump administration has sought to bar transgender people from serving in the military and has legally challenged their civil rights protections embedded in the health care law.
Experts said the policy would apply to issues of sex discrimination, such as students who are denied access to the school bathroom that aligns with their gender identity or a transgender woman who is refused a female room assignment at a hospital.
Under the proposed policy, such discrimination would not be protected in the view of the federal government, said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, which works for LGBT rights and helped organize Sunday’s rally.
But in practice, he said, transgender people would still have legal protection because the courts have ruled that they are covered under the umbrella of sex discrimination.
“It just means the struggle will be that much harder,” he said, adding that the government may decide not to tell institutions how to follow the law and may not enforce the law when discrimination occurs.
Ellis, the president of GLAAD, said she saw a swift response from the LGBT community Sunday but hoped to also engage with other communities, including the medical industry and Hollywood.
“This brings the civil rights fight to a whole new level when you are trying to completely erase a group of people,” she said. “But we are ready to fight this.”