On Oct. 21 the New York Times broke a story about a Department of Health and Human Services memo indicating the Trump administration was seeking to exclude transgender people in a new legal definition of gender. This would reverse Obama-era executive actions that allow trans and non-binary identifying individuals the rights to use restrooms corresponding to their gender identity and join the military, while also providing Title IX protections against discrimination.
Redefining transgender Americans out of existence and eliminating their protections under federal law goes against Trump’s campaign promise to protect LGBTQA+ citizens, which includes the 1.4 million Americans who identify as trans or non-binary. According to the HHS memo, the current definition of gender would be changed to: “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.”
SF State trans and non-binary students seem disgruntled but not surprised at the release of the administrative memo and its contents.
“I think it’s horse shit,” said Mandy Hummel, a non-binary student as SF State. “I think anyone who has taken a look at science, actual hard biological science, can look at that and understand that scientists have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as binary biological sex.”
Human biology and genetic code are often used as arguments to support the claim that there are only two genders, male and female.
It is still unclear how gender policies would be altered if this administrative change goes into effect, but medical treatment under Medicaid, the restrooms trans people can use and prison assignments for trans inmates could all be affected by changing the definition of gender.
“Honestly, I thought it was really silly,” said Bucket Manyweather, a non-binary student engagement specialist at SF State. “It felt a lot like, ‘I got your nose!’ It’s like, ‘No you don’t, I have my nose on my face.’”
“I’m trans, however you want to define it… It’s so silly to be this society where it’s like… we create whatever we want for the sake of being a bigot,” Manyweather added.
If the federal definition of gender is changed to only fit the cisgendered (identifying with your birth sex) binary, it would be in violation of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act. This section states that any health services that receive funding from HHS cannot discriminate against patients based on gender.
“I think by definition it’s erasure,” said Lorenzo Alexander, a trans sophomore at SF State. “It’s completely ignoring the fact that we exist, and thereby like, ‘Oh, if you can’t see a problem, then you can’t fix it.’”
On Dec. 4, a “Timely Warning Crime Bulletin” was sent out in an email signed by Luoluo Hong, Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, to SF State’s student body and staff, describing a knife-wielding assailant as a “Hispanic transgender female,” sparking outrage from the SF State trans community for the criminalization of a trans body. As a result, fliers were posted around campus and online as a callout to administrators for their use of the term “transgender” to describe the physical appearance of a suspect.
“I think it’s irresponsible of the school to not at least acknowledge the fact that a large portion of their student population have come because they are queer in some aspect,” Hummel said. “Like you’d think they’d be a bit more trained on [gender issues], and they’re not. And that’s really disappointing.”
Hong sent another mass email out on Dec. 16 to update the original crime bulletin. In it she issued an apology and retracted the identification of the alleged attacker as a “transgender female.”
“We further recognize that the message had the impact of triggering anxiety and fear for many individuals in our trans community, who confront alienation, marginalization and threats to their safety on a regular basis,” the email read. “For this, we want to express our deep regret.”
There are limited resources for queer and trans students on campus, all of which are student-run organizations separate from faculty and staff. The Queer and Trans Resource Center, which is run by Associated Students, Inc., and the Queer Alliance are the two most prominent centers for queer and trans students on campus.
“They’re really helpful, but it could be better,” Alexander said .
While nationally there is a perceived erasure of the LGBTQA+ community, there are some steps being taken within the California State University CSU System to curate a safer and more inclusive environment for queer and trans students.
This past Wednesday, the Office of the Chancellor of the CSU system sent out an email to student affairs staff statewide that details a plan to increase inclusion on CSU campuses. Xpress obtained a copy of the email from Manyweather.
“To continue to grow inclusiveness in the CSU, a call by campuses and students to encourage the use of gender pronouns has become increasingly prevalent,” the email read. “A group of Chancellor’s Office and campus representatives met to take an initial cut at identifying what would be needed to implement the use of gender pronouns.”
A new feature in every student’s online portal will provide students the opportunity to choose their preferred pronouns, which can be updated at any time. Staff and faculty will also be required to go through gender pronoun training.
“It is equally important to provide training to the campus community, particularly faculty and staff, about gender pronouns and why their use matters,” said the email. “This initiative is well-intentioned but may also cause unintentional harm by outing students if the campus is not educated.”