The Trump administration has opened up its broadest assault on transgender people yet, moving to adopt a legal definition of gender as never-changing and determined at birth by external genitalia.
Led by the Department of Health and Human Services, where anti-transgender activist Roger Severino heads the Office of Civil Rights, the goal is to get the Departments of Justice, Education, and Labor to join in imposing the new definition through regulations that will have a better chance of being upheld now that Brett Kavanaugh has solidified a 5-4 right wing majority on the US Supreme Court.
The new definition is designed to deny health and social services to transgender people and to allow legal discrimination against LGBTQ people in general.
The New York Times broke the story Sunday morning after obtaining a copy of an internal HHS memo. Response from the LGBTQ activist community was swift and sharp across the nation.
In New York City, hundreds of people huddled in the cold in Washington Square to condemn the move and vow resistance.
Chase Strangio, a transgender attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that as extreme as this new attack is, “It is the continuation of a system that has always been in place.”
He added, “Efforts to erase us will not be successful. We exist because we’re here.”
Strangio emphasized that laws that protect transgender people “have not changed” — from state and local anti-discrimination laws to a growing body of federal case law that holds that such discrimination is forbidden under Title XII provisions of the 1964 Civil Rights Act forbidding sex discrimination and related sex discrimination provisions of other federal statutes.
That is precisely what the Trump administration wants stopped.
And the Supreme Court has held off hearing appeals of lower court decisions affirming that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination is illegal sex discrimination until Kavanaugh was in place.
Tatenda Ngwaru, an intersex activist from Zimbabwe, said, “This is an attack on our realities.”
Tony-winning actor Sara Ramirez said, “If today is a wake-up call for you, then where have you been?”
Referring to the president, actor, writer, and activist Indya Moore said, “We must fight narcissism with community.”
The Times story says that representatives of civil rights groups have been meeting with administration officials for more than a year endeavoring to tone down its worst elements, including genetic testing of trans people as the final arbiter of their identity.
But the reactionary officials in place in the Trump administration — catering to the religious right — are determined to get the Justice Department to approve the new definition of gender before the end of the year.
Longtime gay activist Christopher Hennelly posted on Facebook, “This is frightening. We will end up having to create underground resources to care for our brothers and sisters.”
He added, “Once they change this in regulation it means death for many. CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid) determines what gets covered under all health plans that it reimburses. Not getting hormones is equivalent to not getting insulin or high blood pressure medication.”
Strangio distributed seven action items, online at out.com/news-opinion/2018/10/21/hell-no-memo-7-action-items-protect-trans-and-gnc-people, in response to the HHS memo calling on the community to focus on the Yes on 3 campaign in Massachusetts to defeat a referendum repeal of transgender rights on November 6, getting the vote out for the midterms, contributing to trans-led groups and bailout funds, participating in the Notice and Comments Periods when the Trump administration announces the new regs that are then subject to public comment, and supporting trans and non-binary journalists. He also urged cisgender people to “educate yourself to make sure you’re challenging the notion that there is a binary and coherent notion of ‘biological sex.’”
Veteran gay activist Jon Nalley, 59, said he was in Washington Square Park because “we have to stick together when we are attacked. We’re still fighting for access to abortion and birth control. As a person with HIV, they’ll take away access to our drugs” if we don’t make a stand now.
Cathy Marino Thomas of Gays Against Guns, told Gay City News, “Now that we’ve purged the IDC [the rogue Democratic caucus] from the State Senate, I expect GENDA [the long-stalled Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act], and if we don’t get it I’ll be visiting a lot of state senators.”
Maru Won Jin held an “End Cissexism” sign and said she was there for her transgender spouse.
“I’m Zen Buddhist and we’re all connected,” she said.
Transgender filmmaker and artist Tourmaline, 35, said, “We’re still here and they can’t erase us… We need to take care of each other and fight back.”
Dylan Kapit, 24, said, “We’re going to show up and we’re going to vote.”
In a written statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “To all trans and non-binary New Yorkers: we see you and we will fight this. Every human being has a right to define their own identity.”
The mayor just signed legislation making it much easier to change your gender marker on your birth certificate with no medical certification required and, for the first time, choose a non-binary X designation.
At a Monday morning press conference at the Human Rights Campaign offices in Washington, LGBTQ national groups were joined by other leading civil rights organizations in denouncing the administration’s efforts. Sharon McGowan, the legal director and chief strategy office at Lambda Legal, said her group and others “knew this was coming,” noting not only Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ move against protections for trans students in his second day on the job — the start of a host of maneuvers to undermine transgender rights in federal law — but also the appointment of Severino, who has a long and well-documented history of antagonism toward LGBTQ rights, to a high profile post that did not require Senate confirmation.
As the press conference ended, the groups on hand, which also included the ACLU, Freedom for All Americans, PFLAG, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, began a march to the White House, led by the National Center for Transgender Equality, “to rally against the Trump-Pence administration’s impending attack on the LGBTQ community.”