October 23, 2018

Concerns raised over the loss of transgender protections in the US

Concerns raised over the loss of transgender protections in the US

The Trump administration is considering adopting a definition of gender that would deny federal recognition and civil rights protections to transgender Americans, according to a report in The New York Times.

In a memo reportedly obtained by the newspaper, the US Department of Health and Human Services proposes a narrow definition of gender as a biological, unchangeable condition determined by a person’s genitalia at birth. Sex would be defined as either male or female and any dispute would have to be clarified using genetic testing.

Activists fear such a change could “define out of existence” Americans who currently identify as transgender—a community estimated to number at least 1.4 million people.

People with gender dysphoria suffer feelings of distress because of the mismatch between their sex and their gender identity—their internal and personal conception of themselves as a man or a woman. In his IZA World of Labor article on the well-being and labor market outcomes of trans people, Nick Drydakis writes that, “Trans people who align their inner gender identities with their outward appearance are found to experience a significant relief from gender dysphoria.”

A series of decisions during 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 a child is assigned at birth.

However, according to the memo, the Department of Health and Human Services wishes to establish a narrow legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance: “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.”

Many US states currently require sex reassignment surgery in order for a trans person’s gender identity to be legally recognized. Such surgical transitions require a significant amount of time—during which trans people are vulnerable to societal exclusion and biased treatment—and are often beyond trans people’s financial means. Also, a large proportion of the trans community are “happy to live, experience, and celebrate their gender identity without surgical procedures,” writes Drydakis. 

For these reasons, Drydakis believes “[t]rans people should be able to change gender identification on official documents without having to undergo sex reassignment surgery. This policy would minimize employment and societal exclusions for those who are not keen, ready, or financially able to undergo such a surgical procedure. Explicit legal employment protections against discrimination on the grounds of gender identity should become mandatory.”

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