On October 21, the New York Times reported that a memo written by the Department of Health and Human Services sought to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, stating, “Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identified by or before birth.” It further clarified, “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by genetic evidence.”
Later that week, the Department of Justice filed a brief in a case concerning the wrongful firing of a transgender woman because of her gender, stating that “When Title VII was enacted in 1964, ‘sex’ meant biological sex; it ‘refer[red] to [the] physiological distinction’ between ‘male and female.’ […] Title VII thus does not apply to discrimination against an individual based on his or her gender identity.” In short, the brief confirms the DOJ’s stance that transgender workers are not eligible for protection from gender-based discrimination.
That these two statements came to light within only a few days of each other marks a growing — but not new — environment of hostility towards intersex, transgender, gender-nonconforming and/or queer people in the Trump administration. Previously in 2017, President Trump announced over Twitter that he would attempt to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military. While the ban was effectively blocked, it sent a message to transgender people that their rights and freedoms were publicly under attack.
While violence against transgender, intersex and gender-nonconforming people did not start with the Trump administration, a Mic report found an uptick in numbers of reported homicides of trans individuals since 2015. And, while all transgender individuals are under heightened risk of victimization, the report found that Black transgender women and gender-nonconforming femmes (i.e. those who may not identify as “female” but who present femininely) were most at risk, making up 72 percent of 111 reported transgender homicide victims between 2010 and 2016.
For transgender people, these incidents are sobering, if not surprising, reminders that living as trans in America is fraught with material and political violence and that these risks are particularly salient for working-class trans people and trans people of color. This reality is exacerbated on campus when there are a lack of resources available to trans students and workers. For example, the difficulty in locating all-gender restrooms on campus — due to both a lack of all-gender restrooms in many buildings as well as outdated maps on the university’s website — forces trans students to out themselves to their instructors and peers, subjecting them to potential transphobic violence. In addition, it is unacceptable that Northwestern University Health Services does not employ any medical care providers who are specifically trained to administer hormone replacement therapy or provide specialized care for transitioning students, forcing students to go off-campus to seek medical services. For students who rely on NU-SHIP insurance, this comes with additional deductible and coinsurance costs of hundreds of dollars annually, when they could be receiving medical services at no additional cost at NUHS.
Northwestern University Graduate Workers (NUGW) stands in solidarity with all intersex, transgender and gender-nonconforming students, staff and faculty in the NU community. We further acknowledge that violence against trans people is an axis of oppression that intersects with misogynist, homophobic, racist, anti-black and classist violence. We call on the NU administration to affirm its commitment to protecting the safety of all its students and to increase the resources available to trans community members, including but not limited to increasing the number of all-gender bathrooms on campus, hiring medical care and mental health providers trained to provide specialized care to trans students and making clear the protections trans students have under the University’s gender-based discrimination policies.
—In solidarity, NUGW
This statement was originally published in the Daily Northwestern.