The Happy Trail

Trump administration threatens intersex & transgender legal definitions

Following the ban of transgender people from the military, many protested in Washington, D.C. — Photo credit to Ted Eytan

At the 2016 Republican convention, Trump made history by being the first GOP nominee to hold up a pride flag. The flag was upside down, and now we know why.

The Trump administration’s latest assault on the LGBTQ+ community is led by Roger Severino. He is the head of the Department of Health and Human Services and director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society. Severino’s opinions on transgender people are made clear in his opinion articles; “Pentagon’s Transgender Policy Defies Common Sense” and “3 Ways Conservative Lawmakers Should Fight Obama’s Bathroom Directive.” The Department of Health and Human Services wants to define gender as “unchangeable from birth,” a decision that will negatively affect transgender and intersex people across the country.

Severino was most likely unaware that Oct. 26 was Intersex Awareness Day. According to Advocates for Intersex Youth, being born intersex is just as common as being born with red hair. Experts estimate that as many as 1.7 percent of the world’s population is born with intersex traits. “Intersex” is a term that refers to people who are born with any range of characteristics that do not fit Trump Administration’s conception of male or female.

Since last spring, the Department of Health and Human Services has been leading an effort to establish “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.”The Department of Health and Human Services wants to make gender ideals that oppress intersex and trans people the official preference of the state. This is the LGBTQ+ community’s opportunity to mount a strong and overdue defense of trans and intersex lives, one rooted in love and understanding. In the words of queer activist Adam Eli, “Queer people anywhere are responsible for queer people everywhere.”

For centuries, the medical community has intervened with the nature of intersex babies. An intersex baby is born perfectly healthy: there is no medical reason to make their bodies conform to traditional ideas of what it means to be male or female.

“Imagine knowing that every aspect of your physiology, from your height to your cup size, was chosen off a menu — not by nature but by doctors and family members,” said Alicia Roth Weigel, an intersex individual who had a gonadectomy surgery before she was old enough to consent.

Intersex people subject to involuntary transitioning are proof that gender is something medicine can change. Intersex people have a long history of being given hormones and surgeries that are similar to the process the Trump administration is trying to discourage among trans people. Gender was never meant to be assigned at birth and intersex people are living proof that medicine can effectively change gender.

By requiring a baby to be either male or female, the Trump administration is trying to eradicate the legal identity of intersex people. Genetic testing would be the only way to prove you were another gender.

“Where would such a change leave me? My body would throw this Trumpian test for a loop — my naturally occurring genitalia don’t match the ‘correct’ genetic code in this forced-binary paradigm that seeks to override biology,” Weigel said.

According to the New York Times, this “Trumpian” definition would eradicate federal recognition of an estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves as something other than the sex they were born with. This effort by the Department of Health and Human Services is a giant insult to the transgender community and their human rights. The Obama-era policies that protected gender identity in schools, prisons, hospitals and homeless shelters are at risk of being rolled back. These are places that trans and intersex people need protection from the law.

“This takes a position that what the [current] medical community understands about their patients — what people understand about themselves — is irrelevant because the government disagrees,” according to Catherine E. Lahmon, who led the Education Department Office for Civil Rights.

Thus far, Trump’s administration has argued in favor of anti-LGBTQ+ businesses, fired all members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, tried to reinstate a ban on trans people joining the military and has withdrawn Obama-era policies that protected transgender  identity in schools, prisons and homeless shelters. It is clear that the people in charge don’t understand not all humans are born male or female, and that medicine has a long history of changing people’s’ gender.