More evidence has emerged of the Trump administration’s efforts to completely erase the concept of gender.
The Guardian reported this week that the administration is trying to remove the word “gender” from various human rights documents at the United Nations.
One of the examples cited was a report on human trafficking in which the administration wanted to replace the term “gender-based violence” with “violence against women.” This reflects a similar change the State Department made last month that altered the language for passports from “Gender Designation” to “Sex Designation.” Just this past week, the Department of Health and Human Services similarly removed the term “gender” from its civil rights webpage.
These changes are all part and parcel to a plan laid out in an HHS memo leaked to The New York Times detailing a plan to define “sex” under the law in a way that completely erases the existence of transgender people. Sex, the memo describes, would refer narrowly to “either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with,” subject to genetic testing. The memo suggests a desire to implement that definition uniformly across the administration, impacting all of the different protections that could be extended to transgender people.
Lauding news of the memo, conservatives have been eager to reiterate their belief that there is no distinction between sex and gender. They reject the premise that anyone can experience gender in a way that isn’t determined by their genitals, deriding transgender people as simply being mentally ill and non-binary people as nonexistent. They likewise make no accommodation for intersex people, despite the reality that their biology may very well not define their gender in the clean-cut way they believe it can and should be.
All of these changes signify an effort to codify this simplistic, unscientific, and archaic definition of sex across the entire federal government. The Trump administration has already taken countless steps to rescind protections for transgender people, and this final step would indeed completely negate their existence.
The effect of this would be that laws meant to protect against discrimination on the basis of sex would not apply to transgender people whatsoever. For any transgender person who does not identify with their sex as prescribed by the administration, they could find no relief even when experiencing textbook discrimination on the basis of their gender.
That the Trump administration is also trying to incorporate these language changes at the U.N. suggests an effort to outsource this transphobia as well. “To succeed in its campaign,” the Guardian notes, “the US will have to forge unusual alliances, with Russia and conservative Islamic states, against its western European partners.”
There’s already evidence of the administration’s willingness to take this approach on LGBTQ issues. Last year, the United States joined countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia in voting down a U.N. resolution condemning discriminatory use of the death penalty. Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia use capital punishment as a means of cracking down on homosexuality.
There’s likewise the concern that other country’s conservatives could be inspired to make the same kinds of changes to their own laws. Transgender Canadian Abigail Curley wrote this week that she’s already worried that Canada’s conservatives could follow the United States’ lead to roll back gender identity protections there too.
“Once we achieve basic human rights, we are still at the mercy of populist opinion,” she explained, “and that means as soon as a Trump-like figure bumbles his way into power, we risk losing everything.”
UPDATE: In a statement to the Washington Blade Thursday, a State Department spokesperson denied the Guardian report and claimed the administration was not planning to remove “gender” from U.N. documents.
“In no way is the United States attempting to exclude the protection of transgendered persons, or protection of any person, in any U.N. resolution,” they said. “When certain parts of resolutions explicitly refer to issues affecting ‘women and girls,’ our negotiators have suggested in several instances to change ‘gender’ to ‘women’ and/or ‘women and girls’ to make the resolutions clearer, more specific, more accurate, and in our view, stronger in the administration’s efforts to empower women and girls.”
The spokesperson added that the administration “is against discrimination of any kind and is committed to inclusive, non-discriminatory and integrated international development.”