More than 1,600 scientists have signed an open letter condemning a Trump administration proposal that would have severe consequences for transgender, non-binary, and intersex people to find protections under federal law.
“This proposal is fundamentally inconsistent not only with science, but also with ethical practices, human rights, and basic dignity,” the letter, published October 26, reads.
The administration’s plan, laid out in a memo that was recently leaked to The New York Times, would eliminate the concept of gender and attempt to define people’s sex according to their genitals at birth or by genetic testing. The letter insists the proposal “is in no way ‘grounded in science’ as the administration claims.”
Contrary to the arbitrary and binary way the administration plans to define sex, “the relationship between sex chromosomes, genitalia, and gender identity is complex, and not fully understood,” the letter continues. “There are no genetic tests that can unambiguously determine gender, or even sex.”
Since the memo was first leaked on October 21, many experts have similarly tried to explain that anatomy does not determine gender. Increasing research reveals at least some biological components to transgender identities, and chromosomes actually tell a very incomplete and non-binary picture of people’s sex.
The letter also notes that intersex people may have genitalia and secondary sexual characteristics that do not align with what their chromosomes might suggest.
“The proposed policy will force many intersex people to be legally classified in ways that erase their intersex status and identity, as well as lead to more medically unnecessary and risky surgeries at birth,” it states, referring to the history of trying to “correct” an infant’s ambiguous genitalia. “Such non-consensual gender assignment and surgeries result in increased health risks in adulthood and violate intersex people’s right to self-determination.”
California recently became the first state to denounce surgical interventions for intersex children.
The scientists warn that the proposed policy would cause “grave harm to transgender and intersex Americans” by increasing the likelihood they experience discrimination, fear for their personal safety, and face increased family and societal rejection. “Our best available evidence shows that affirmation of gender identity is paramount to the survival, health, and livelihood of transgender and intersex people,” they explain. “Transgender and intersex people deserve equal access to the rights, livelihoods, liberties, and dignity to which we are all entitled on the basis of our shared humanity.”
As the BBC noted last week, the letter has so far been signed by more than 700 biologists, more than 100 geneticists, and nine Nobel Prize winners. Many other scientists from other fields have signed the letter in solidarity, including psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, anthropologists, linguists, ecologists, and neuroscientists.
The American Psychological Association (APA) decried the administration’s proposal in a statement last month.
“For decades, researchers have recognized that gender is not necessarily determined by a person’s biological sex assigned at birth, which can be physiologically uncertain in some cases,” APA President Jessica Henderson Daniel said. “Purposely ignoring this body of evidence is indefensible and certain to add to the stress and discrimination already experienced by transgender people.”
Last week, a coalition of more than 50 companies also issued a statement condemning the proposed policy. “We oppose any administrative and legislative efforts to erase transgender protections through reinterpretation of existing laws and regulations,” they wrote. “We also fundamentally oppose any policy or regulation that violates the privacy rights of those that identify as transgender, gender non-binary, or intersex.”
The companies, which include Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nike, and Levi Strauss, recognize that “diversity and inclusion are good for business,” while “discrimination imposes enormous productivity costs.”
The Trump administration’s response to the original reporting on the proposed policy was to falsely blame the Obama administration, ignoring responsibility for the countless steps it has taken to oppose and dismantle transgender protections.
UPDATE: A coalition of 35 health care groups has added their voice to the mix, calling the proposal “clearly aimed at excluding transgender and intersex people from necessary nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sex.”
The groups that signed include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the Endocrine Society, and the National Association of Social Workers.