Leaked transgender memo stirs campus anxiety

In both public and online protests, slogans like “We Cannot Be Erased” and “Trans Rights are Human Rights” were written on posters and pages in solidarity.

The protests follow a recent memo leak from the Trump administration that would legally redefine sex and gender under Title IX, a federal civil rights law that bans discrimination in educational institutions receiving government funding. According to an article from the New York Times, the effort will be lead by the Department of Health and Human Services and could potentially alter the lives of 1.4 million Americans who identify as transgender.

Under this memo, the new definition states sex is “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth”, and that “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.” Gender will be defined in more explicit terms and will be determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” If any disputes about sex are filed, an individual must go through genetic testing to clarify their sex.

For people like Sonja Dressel, a licensed student counselor and adviser to United, CSC’s LGBTQ+ group, having a job that falls directly under Title IX puts her in a difficult position if this effort goes through.

“It just leaves such a gray area,” Dressel said in regard to the changes. “Most students, if they came in and they would see Title IX, they’d be thinking ‘consent’, because that’s what we talk about on campus all the time. But rather it’s about gender equity, and that’s one big umbrella with how many things fall under that.”

The Trump administration plans on pulling in the “Big Four,” which is comprised of The Departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services and Labor, all of which oversee aspects of Title IX. With each of these agencies involved, the likelihood that the new definition would be legally adopted and enforced in courts is greater.

In the case of a transgender CSC graduate, who remains anonymous, this could spell major problems for those who haven’t fully transitioned yet.

“For someone like me, who has had multiple surgeries and has been on hormones and has all the documents already changed, it won’t affect me as much as someone who is younger or is pre-HRT (hormone replacement therapy). Are they ever going to be able to transition? Are they going to be stuck in a body they don’t identify with forever?”

The former student said the involvement of the Big Four would be “encompassing” as, combined, the agencies form a big part of individuals’ lives.

“Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, all those combined together make up every aspect of your life. So, I don’t know. It would be a big thing for our community.”

United, which Dressel calls a “melting pot” of communities that provides a space and support to both students and alumni, explores how these issues will impact the community. Though talks of the administration’s plans have still been preliminary, Dressel said members often discuss the impact of plans, like Trump’s, on CSC’s students.

“A lot of our discussions are about how those things come down to our campus,” Dressel said.

Similar discussions have also been held online, with members of the trans community taking on social media sites like Instagram to address their fears relating to this memo. The alum described anxiety in the community and said many are unsure about what their futures will be.

“People I follow [online], they’re panicking. They say, ‘I’m waiting to hear from my insurance company about surgery. How does this affect that?’ and ‘Am I ever going to be able to transition because of this?’ And then I’ve got a lot of trans friends who are younger, and they can’t be on hormones because they’re too young, and they say ‘Am I ever going to get that chance, or am I not?’, because the education system is going to change, and wonder ‘Am I going to be stuck going into the wrong bathroom forever?”

The administration plans on meeting with the Justice Department by the end of the year to formally propose the changes, leaving a large gap of time before big developments could happen. The lack of certainty at the moment leaves a lot to be considered, and for Dressel this isn’t something positive.

“People can choose to see it as ‘the glass is half full, the glass is half empty’, and say ‘Oh, it won’t really affect us, and I’ll be okay,’ but it’s hard to do that right now.”

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