LGBTQ+ Rights Threatened Again – Let’s Not Look Away

Erin Zipman, Staff Writer

Last week, the Trump Administration proposed to rewrite the definition of gender under Title IX of the Education Amendments. Title IX prohibits gender-based discrimination in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance, and in 2014 the Department of Education asserted that this title would also apply to transgender students. However, since Trump’s election, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has sought to carve away at these legal protections. HHS and several other departments of government have been stripping regulations and overturning motions that had previously sought to validate and protect transgender people in housing, education, medical care – and now the government has been generally promoting discrimination against them. (For a detailed list of what exactly Trump’s Administration has been up to, check out “Trump’s Record of Action Against Transgender People” on

The most recent offense has been a memo leaked from HHS, seeking to establish gender as solely based on what one is assigned at birth, which is to say, based on your genitalia. If one was to identify as any other gender or did not conform to a gender, the government would not recognize it, and they would not be protected under Title IX. If there was a dispute over one’s gender, it would be determined with genetic testing. For any non-cisgender person (cisgender being someone who identifies as the gender that they are assigned at birth based on their sex/genitals) including trans and non-binary people, or any intersex person. This is nothing short of erasure; the government would be forcing people to pick a binary gender in order to be legally protected. Can they actually do this?

In an interview with the independent investigative news magazine Mother Jones, transgender attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights Shannon Minter emphasizes that “this does not change the actual statutes. Congress writes the laws, the courts interpret them, and the executive branch enforces them, but the executive branch does not get to define what the laws mean. So it’s still going to be up to the courts to decide what these laws mean.” It is important to realize that while motions like this one facilitate oppression, it does not mean that the Trump Administration gets the final say – twenty states explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. Diana Flynn, another transgender attorney who was a top official in the Justice Department for more than thirty years, told Mother Jones that proposing to assign gender with genetic testing “is profoundly insulting and an enormous invasion of privacy,” and would likely be challenged heavily in courts. Flynn points out the conclusions of scientists who work in gender and sexual sciences, which recognize that many genetic factors besides the absence or presence of a chromosome determine someone’s sex, especially in cases of intersex people. But while the proposal is only a leaked memo at this stage, its implications still deal damage and embolden anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment.

Although these are chilling and dangerous notions to live with, these developments are not new or unexpected. What seems to be a major setback has been a reality in many cases already, especially with non-cisgender people of color. Policies that neglect or trample LGBTQ+ people, women, and people of color have always existed. Perhaps more destructive is the ideology that promotes whiteness, cisgenderness, heterosexuality, traditional gender roles, and conformity in general – this is what makes a large portion of the population complicit with discriminatory systems and day to day actions that allows hateful rhetoric to rise to power. We may say we value equality and acceptance, but we don’t act that way in day to day life; we continue to blindly support organizations with discriminatory policies, we act in ways that promote cisgenderism as the natural and normal way to be.

This is why about half of all transgender people will attempt suicide before the age of 25. It is why black queer people are murdered at a much higher rate than their white counterparts. LGBTQ+ people of color have been ravaged constantly – and that is why they have been on the front lines of activism, from Marsha P. Johnson to James Baldwin.

Even within the LGBTQ+ community, activism does not serve everyone. The same people who praise Caitlyn Jenner may ridicule Laverne Cox and Amiyah Scott, both prominent black trans actresses. Often the voices of black queer people are hushed in favor of white voices. The same issue pervades the feminist movement, where some white feminists have been hostile towards black feminists.

So what does it all mean? The Trump Administration has not been the first to oppress LGBTQ+ people, and they won’t be the last. We should not take this as a disheartening sign of destruction but rather as a motion in an oppressive system that we should actively be working against. Grassroots movements are more effective than changes in the law. Our government may be slashing transgender and non-binary rights, but if we as a society face our personal faults, we can create a space that keeps all people safe and allows us all to thrive. When we monitor our subconscious prejudices and microaggressions, when we look for the people who are not being represented in our schools, positions of power, media, in the companies that we support and seek to elevate their voices, that is when we can make justice an integral part of our lives.