The Trump administration is considering creating a narrower legal definition of sex under Title IX, a federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs that receive government funding, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times.
The definition would effectively eliminate the legal category of transgender.
In light of the memo, biologists, geneticists and LGBTQ organizations such as The Trevor Project have protested and condemned the administration’s plan. The Department of Health and Human Services would define sex as male or female, unchangeable and based on biological traits such as genitals identified by and before birth, according to the memo.
The memo also stated that the sex listed on people’s birth certificates would establish proof of their sex unless it was refuted by genetic evidence. As of now, the federal government and some states allow people to change their sex on identification documents such as passports and IDs.
The memo isn’t the first to cut back on rights and protections for transgender people. Previously, the Trump administration had created a ban to prevent transgender people from serving in the military.
If the proposed memo becomes national policy, many people who have legally changed their sex markers on identification might be forced to undo these changes. Other legal implications include rollbacks in protections for transgender and nonbinary students on college campuses and the erasure of federal recognition for transgender people.
If the memo went into effect, some public universities might be forced to get rid of their gender-flexible housing, inclusive bathrooms and LGBTQ programs. Although the memo hasn’t become federal policy, there are a few examples of what universities might implement if the memo’s definitions became legalized.
For instance, in 2016, the University of Tennessee's LGBTQ Pride Center nearly shut down after state lawmakers cut off funding. Since most public universities, unlike private institutions, rely on government funding, the memo would primarily affect public universities’ decisions on cutting back protections for transgender students and LGBTQ support programs.
“When the memo came out, we were already talking with the [University] President’s Office about releasing an official statement,” said Lee Dyer, the associate director for LGBTQ campus life. “Since it was a leaked memo, we didn’t know what the actual legal ramifications would look like.”
Each state will be left to decide whether to stop or continue its protections for transgender students, Dyer said.
“Since we’re a private institution, things work differently than state schools,” Dyer said. “The only instance where we could be forced to roll back our anti-discrimination policy is if the Board of Trustees and the President chose to do so.”
Both the Office of Common Ground and the President's Office decided not to release an official statement about the memo.
“Dr. Crutcher shared his experiences about being discriminated against,” Dyer said. “He made it clear to us that he never wanted UR students to feel unsafe and unsupported.”
Instead of drafting an official statement, Common Ground spoke with the President's Office about support programs and ways they could help transgender students.
One of the programs is Kaleidoscope, a support group for transgender and nonbinary students that meets twice a month. With funding and support from the President’s Office, Kaleidoscope will be able to hire a support group facilitator for meetings.
"A statement is great, but it won't lessen transgender students' worries,” Dyer said. “This is why we decided to work on programs.”
Junior Jeff Lowe, a transgender student, said the memo had blindsided him but that he believed the school would protect students like him.
“I feel like people on campus are always supportive,” Lowe said.
Lowe said Kaleidoscope and the LGBTQIA+ Anonymous Community at UR group chat helped him and other transgender students on campus feel supported.
Contact contributor Sunny Lim at firstname.lastname@example.org.