The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) removed mentions of the term “gender” from its civil rights webpage.
The removals preceded a New York Times report on Sunday detailing a memo that the Trump administration is aiming to define gender as a fixed condition determined by genitalia at birth — and HHS is spearheading this effort.
The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) webpage “Discrimination on the Basis of Sex” was altered to remove ten mentions of the word “gender,” according to a new report from the Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project released on Tuesday. The changes occurred sometime between February 26, 2018 and March 5, 2018.
This webpage outlines laws the OCR enforces on behalf of recipients of federal financial assistance. Prior to the alterations, these laws included parentheticals for the term “gender” following each time the law referred to sex. For example, the site used to say “Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as amended… prohibits the discrimination on the basis of sex (gender) in federally-assisted education programs.”
The only mention of gender on the webpage now is in reference to a 2016 nationwide injunction against a federal mandate that protects transgender and queer rights. In other words, the website only mentions gender to say OCR cannot enforce a health care rule that says providers, for example, cannot discriminate based on sex and gender identity.
“The real impact of this potential change is on HHS’ ability to take administrative complaints against provider or insurance companies… or other federal health programs and investigate them themselves,” said civil rights attorney Joseph Wardenski with Relman, Dane & Colfax, of the NYT report.
“What HHS would close the door to if they adopt this rule, potentially, is any ability to file a complaint directly with them when someone’s rights have been violated.”
ThinkProgress reached out to HHS for comment but did not immediately hear back. But the Web Integrity Project believes the removals and NYT report are related.
“The changes that the Web Integrity Project reports on often help explain the news; in this case, however, the news instead provides insight into the changes we’ve seen,” wrote the Web Integrity Project’s “The memo described by The Times represents a formal initiative from an agency that provides a rationale for why the government might seek to alter the description of policies about sex discrimination on a public-facing website.”
The report solidifies a point activists have been making since the NYT published its story on Sunday: the Trump administration can try to redefine gender — by way of rule-making or website changes — but cannot rewrite federal civil rights law passed by Congress and interpreted by the courts, nor do they hold the power to erase any community. American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Chase Strangio said as much for Teen Vogue.
“We exist no matter what the law says about us, how the law tries to constrain or attack us. That means we cannot be erased,” wrote Strangio.