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Wednesday August 17th

UNC activists respond to Trump administration's proposed definition of gender

<p>On-campus activist groups centered around people of color and queer/transgender advocacy shut down the intersection of Franklin St. and Columbia St. on Mar 29, 2016 in protest of newly passed House Bill 2.</p>
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On-campus activist groups centered around people of color and queer/transgender advocacy shut down the intersection of Franklin St. and Columbia St. on Mar 29, 2016 in protest of newly passed House Bill 2.

The news that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services is considering establishing a legal definition of sex under Title IX has stoked fears of erasure and persecution among some — perhaps especially in North Carolina, the state of the 2016 “bathroom bill.” 

Title IX bans discrimination on the basis of sex in educational environments, but an internal memo obtained by The New York Times revealed that the Department of Health & Human Services is leading an effort to define gender as unchangeable and defined at birth. This would effectively erase transgender identities as they apply to Title IX requirements.

Brennan Lewis, a campus advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, expressed anger and concern about the possible change.

“The proposed change is unprecedented and flies in the face of previous court rulings across the country,” Lewis said. “I don’t understand why the administration would consider removing protections for a marginalized group in this way — their statement only serves to harm LGBTQ+ folks.”

The LGBTQ Center hosts Trans Talk Tuesday at Caribou Coffee every second Tuesday of the month. 

For many North Carolinians, who have spent the last few years watching the politics around House Bill 2, this new proposal resembles battles witnessed in the state legislature.

House Bill 2, passed in March 2016, required North Carolina residents to use the public restroom matching the sex listed on their birth certificate. After a year of backlash, the bill was repealed and replaced with House Bill 142, which prohibits municipalities from regulating restrooms, but simultaneously blocks nondiscrimination laws until 2020.

After these moves by the state legislature, many activists are concerned about new policy on the federal level, especially how it could affect education, health care and legal resources for discrimination.

“Transgender students are already vulnerable when trying to access student health care coverage,” Lewis said. “If the Trump administration removed protections for transgender people accessing health care services, many people could lose coverage or be forced to drive long distances to find affirming providers.”

Lewis expressed concern about the side effects of such a policy.

“Transgender youth already face higher rates of bullying, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and health problems,” they said. “When transgender young people experience discrimination or abuse, these rates increase.”

In addition to local individuals and organizations, national groups have released statements about the proposed definition.

“No rule — no administration — can erase the experiences of transgender people and our families,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in a press release. “If this administration is hoping to demoralize us, they will be disappointed.”

The ACLU said in a statement that the proposed change is painful and hateful, and it will not go unchallenged.

“More and more courts are seeing that policies targeting transgender people have no place in our country,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project, said in the statement. “The ACLU will fight back against any efforts to use transgender people as political pawns and continue to seek full equality for transgender and non-binary people.”

Parents of transgender children across the country sent a letter to President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, expressing their concern and anger over the change. The parents promised to voice their concerns by voting.

“These are children who need the full support of our federal government — particularly the agencies whose mission demands their assistance and protection,” they said in the letter. “These are students who are put at real risk of daily harm — physical, emotional and psychological — when legal protections are taken away.” 

UNC student advocates said they’re prepared to fight the proposal and any other attacks on the LGBTQ+ community. 

“The only purpose that redefining gender serves is to remove Title IX protections for transgender and gender-nonconforming people,” Lewis said. “I’m angry, and I’m ready to fight back.”

Kiera Whalen, co-director of the UNC Sexuality and Gender Alliance, urged people to get involved and be aware of the issues facing the transgender community.

“Donate to organizations that support trans folks, look out for your trans friends, vote for candidates that will take action against anti-trans legislation,” Whalen said.

The Department of Health & Human Services has not released a statement on the proposed change.


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