BY LILY REAVIS ’ 21
The Trump Administration is working with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to establish a legal definition of gender under Title IX, according to a New York Times article published on Oct. 21.
The Obama administration previously loosened medical definitions of sex and gender, which gave transgender and nonbinary people increased rights regarding their use of gendered facilities such as bathrooms, dormitories and even gender-specific institutions like Mount Holyoke. This spurred considerable controversy, and prominent Republicans promised to take action.
In 2017, the American Medical Association (AMA) held a meeting in Chicago to “support broadening how gender identity is defined within medicine and how transgender patients are treated by society,” according to their website.
This meeting led to the currently accepted concepts of gender and gender identity in the medical world. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines sex as “one’s biological status as either male or female.” Gender identity is defined as “a person’s internal sense of being male, female or something else.”
According to the APA, “transgender” is an umbrella term for “persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.”
Currently, these definitions are accepted across medical and legal communities in the U.S. Title IX, a federal civil rights law that was passed as a part of the 1972 Education Amendments, prohibits discrimination based on gender in schools. Under the Obama administration, protections were added based on gender identity.
Title IX states, “No person in the high rates of sexual harassment and sexual violence. A school should investigate and resolve allegations of sexual violence regarding LGBT students using the same procedures and standards that it uses in all complaints involving sexual violence.”
Mount Holyoke includes transgender and nonbinary people in its own Title IX and sexual misconduct policies. The scope of the College’s policies remain the same regardless of “sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity [or] gender expression,” according to the Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct Policy in the Student Handbook.
However, DHHS is currently working to redefine gender “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable,” according to the New York Times.
In a memo received by the New York Times from DHHS, the department said, “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.”
If adopted, this definition could exclude transgender and non-binary people from several civil rights protections, including Title IX.
In April 2018, Mount Holyoke hired its first dedicated full-time Title IX and 504 Coordinator, Shannon Da Silva. In response to the plans being pushed by the Trump administration, Da Silva said, “Regardless of what changes are made at the federal level, we will continue to push forward on improving and expanding the ways we welcome, create space for and support trans and gender nonbinary folks in our community.”
Mount Holyoke’s policy for the admission of transgender students was approved in 2014, meaning that several transgender and nonbinary students currently studying at the College are of the first to have officially been admitted. Before 2014, Mount Holyoke did not have a policy for transgender or nonbinary applicants, and operated solely as a women’s college.
During his first months in office, Trump rescinded Obama-era policies that protected transgender people’s use of bathrooms that corresponded with their gender identity. Since then, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has paused or dismissed all discrimination cases involving transgender students on the issue of gendered bathrooms.
If DHHS’ new definition is approved, it would allow those cases to be permanently dismissed, as well as cases that are currently being filed regarding discrimination against transgender and nonbinary individuals.
If the new definition proposal is approved, it would be published in the Federal Register, and the public would be able to submit comments before the Register issues a final rule.