Trump Administration Seeks to Erase the Lives of 1.4 Million Trans Americans Through a Narrow Definition of Gender

Transgender Army veteran Tanya Walker speaks to protesters in Times Square near a military recruitment center as they show their anger at President Donald Trump’s decision to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military on July 26, 2017 in New York City. Trump citied the ‘tremendous medical costs and disruption’ for his decision.
Photo: Spencer Platt (Getty Images)

Talk about going backward.

What began as a trickle, by rolling back hard-won changes the Obama administration put into place for transgender Americans, has turned into a full-out assault, as the Trump administration has proposed to legally define gender as a binary biological absolute determined at birth.


This proposal has far-reaching consequences if it comes to pass, and will “roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law,” says the New York Times.

According to the outlet, the new definition would “essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves—surgically or otherwise—as a gender other than the one they were born into.”

It reports:

A series of decisions by the Obama administration loosened the legal concept of gender in federal programs, including in education and health care, recognizing gender largely as an individual’s choice and not determined by the sex assigned at birth. The policy prompted fights over bathrooms, dormitories, single-sex programs and other arenas where gender was once seen as a simple concept. Conservatives, especially evangelical Christians, were incensed.

Now the Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times.

The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with, according to a draft reviewed by The Times. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.


“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” says the HHS, in a memo which the Times says has been circulating since last Spring. “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.”

Trump (via that feckless lap dog Mike Pence, we’re sure) has steadily been rolling back trans rights since he came into office.


The Times reports that several federal agencies have already withdrawn Obama-era policies that recognized gender identity in schools, prisons and homeless shelters. The administration even tried to remove questions about gender identity from a 2020 census survey and a national survey of elderly citizens. It also has sought to bar transgender people from serving in the military and has legally challenged civil rights protections for the group embedded in the nation’s health care law.

And although there is commentary in the piece that “Transgender people are frightened,” they are also fighting back with the hashtag, #WontBeErased.


However you may feel about gay people, trans people, or about anything that is not heterosexuality, if we do not stand with the most marginalized among us (especially black trans people, who die and are violated at astronomical rates), best believe it gets no better for the rest of us.

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About the author

Angela Helm

Ms. Bronner Helm is a Contributing Editor at The Root. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.