A women, gender and sexuality program professor at UCM has some ideas for how people can become better allies in the face of potential Trump administration changes that would narrow the definition of gender.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is considering changing the Title IX law to define sex as either male or female, unchangeable and determined by the genitals with which person is born.
Title IX is the federal law banning sex discrimination in schools.
Sarah Ray Rondot, director of the women, gender and sexuality studies program, said the agency’s proposed definition would cause many problems for the transgender community.
“From the sense that I have, the issue is that the Trump administration is interested in saying there are only two genders — nothing outside of that and that gender needs to be defined by sex as assigned at birth,” Rondot said. “The bill was essentially designed to take (us) a hundred years back in terms of science.”
Rondot said various scientists have concluded in research that there are more than two genders.
“Scientifically, it’s a spectrum,” she said. “And that even at birth, it’s not always clear which category to put people in… And this bill is trying to say there are only two sexes and what you are assigned at birth is what counts.”
Rondot said the specific reason for the agency to introduce this proposed definitioin is a bit unclear, but she said it might be based on some of the administration’s past policies to dial back rights for transgender people.
“For instance, just in the last week, the website for workplace discrimination that the government puts out completely deleted the section on trans rights in the workplace,” she said. “I think those two things are linked.”
Ahafia Jurkiewicz-Miles, senior piano performance major and former education representative for Prism, said this news came as a surprise.
“Honestly I was really shocked when I heard that was even a question anymore because of how many steps forward there have been in terms of trans rights, especially with the Obama administration… it’s really scary and very irritating, to put it mildly,” Jurkiewicz-Miles said. “That would basically take away all the work we’ve done to recognize that trans people exist, and that their identities are valid and that they need rights as well as other people do.”
Rondot said this issue is complicated because the problem is not just this one effort, but various other moves the administration has tried to make recently.
“What it comes down to is that our current administration does not essentially believe that trans people should exist,” she said.
Rondot said Obama administration decisions help protect trans people in schools. She said he put out a directive in the form of a letter, “Dear Colleague,” but the current administration didn’t take it on. The directive means the law didn’t go through Congress, but it came straight from the president as a suggestion.
The letter suggested for schools to use preferred pronouns and names, protect transgender kids from bullying and have the freedom to choose the restroom that meets their gender identity.
“(It was) definitely a step in a really good direction…Trump basically took that down again from the government website of educational protections. He kind of took it away as if it didn’t exist,” Rondot said.
Rondot said there are ways allies can help when it comes to transgender rights, especially if this change is implemented. She said doing research is an important step.
“I think if people learned more about it, they would be more likely to oppose this bill,” she said. “I would also hope that it wouldn’t affect the rights of trans people. Individual workplaces and schools can take their own stances. I would hope that people would sort of stand up and say, ‘Even though this is what the government is saying, we’re going to still protect trans people.’”
Rondot said she does not believe the change will actually pass through Congress.
“I think it’s kind of one of those things where it’s just an idea of where he’d like to move forward…but it won’t actually happen,” she said.
Rondot said one way for students on campus to learn more about trans rights and be a more educated ally is to take a women, gender and sexuality course.
“That’s one of our main focuses, is how do we become better allies? How do we learn what the real reality facts are, rather than what’s coming from the media and government policy?” Rondot said.
She said another way for allies to help is to listen to transgender students on campus.
“One of the things we could do is make sure that trans students are able to use their preferred name,” she said. “I think mostly, the biggest thing for allies is just learn. And…being vocal about not supporting these sorts of laws is good, too. Coming forward, even if you aren’t trans, and saying, ‘I acknowledge that gender is a spectrum, that trans students exist and that we need to protect their rights.’”
Jurkiewicz-Miles said something allies could do is to listen to transgender people and stand up against this proposal.
“The best thing that people can do right now is to make sure that as whether they are part of the queer community or are an ally, they need to make sure that people hear them, that is wrong,” Jurkiewicz-Miles said. “I would just like to underline the fact that we need to work with people to make sure that everyone knows that this is not a question of belief or not. This is a question of actual prejudice and transphobia…That’s really the biggest thing right now is making sure that people know that you have to expect resistance if they’re not going to accept that trans people exist.”
Rondot said PRISM and Students Advocating Gender Equality are student groups transgender students can go to for support or for allies to learn about the transgender community.
To contact PRISM, email firstname.lastname@example.org and to contact SAGE, email SAGE President Cayla Thurman at CIT49050@ucmo.edu.