In a leaked memo obtained by The New York Times, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is attempting to constrain the definition of gender under Title IX to be based on biological sex. This policy is the latest attempt by the Trump administration to undermine the rights of transgender people. According to the Times, “the Department of Health and Human Services has privately argued that the term ‘sex’ was never meant to include gender identity or even homosexuality, and that the lack of clarity allowed the Obama administration to wrongfully extend civil rights protections to people who should not have them.”
Transgender rights first caught national attention when the Trump administration took away people’s rights to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. The attempt to redefine gender under Title IX by the HHS is supported by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Critics worry that it will give more ground to battles in schools over students’ right to use their bathroom of choice and further complicate other aspects of navigating gender identity in schools, since Title IX is the federal law that prohibits educational discrimination based on gender.
Sarasota County Schools has released new “Gender Diverse Guidelines” that contradict the Trump administration’s latest move. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Sarasota students will be allowed to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their preferred gender identity. The county guidelines also advised that students should be addressed by their preferred names and pronouns, and affirmed that the student alone could make the decision to share their identity. However, the guidelines also contained vague language that maintains some of the status quo; when asked about it by the Herald-Tribune, a district spokesperson said that policies would be addressed on a case-by-case basis according to a student’s proclaimed needs. However, some school board members are opposing the memo; one wants to bring it up for discussion with parents at the next School Board meeting on Nov. 6.
This small victory is overshadowed by the uncertainty of what the Trump administration’s latest move means. According to an Instagram post by the Trans Lifeline, calls to the hotline increased by fourfold in the day following the announcement. Hal Trejo, thesis student and president of All Rainbow and Allied Youth Inc., a LGBTQIA+ youth group in Charlotte County, said in an email interview that “so many of the youth I work with face discrimination at school, work and at home; this memo is just another brick in the wall.”
According to Out Magazine, new proposed federal rules must go through a “notice and comment” period. Legal organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Trans Law Center (TLC) will release updates and talking points for the comments; they expect the comment period within the next two months.
To contact Trans Lifeline, call 877-565-8860 or visit https://www.translifeline.org/.
The Sarasota School Board meeting is on Nov. 6 and is open to the public.