On Sunday, the New York Times reported about an internal memo from the Trump administration showing that it is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth. This is a drastic move by the government to remove protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law. I am disheartened and infuriated about this proposal.
Transgender people live with targets on our backs every day. Although our community here in Maine enjoys hard-fought for protections under the Maine Human Rights Act, federal policy changes still represent a threat to our safety and will embolden efforts to undo settled law in our state. We are already seeing this in states such as Massachusetts, where existing transgender rights protections are already on the chopping block this November.
This change in policy will have a demoralizing impact on the mental health of a community often relegated to the role of a political punching bag, as it proves that their government seeks to codify them out of existence. Social stigma and isolation played major roles in at least seven reported suicides among transgender people in Maine in 2017, based on data collected by Maine Transgender Network.
But attacks on transgender rights and recognition raise red flags that affect all people and speak to issues at the core of this administration’s agenda. The political and cultural fights of the last several months have highlighted issues of sexual violence and abortion access, both of which are fundamentally related to the question of bodily autonomy. The question of who controls our body is important to all, and all should be concerned when the government proposes policies that would put it in that role. If you care about protecting abortion access and ending sexual violence, you must also care about protecting transgender rights.
This proposed policy also has ramifications about the right to self-determination, a freedom fundamental to American democracy. What business does the government have in defining gender? Promoting a single, narrow definition of gender not only erases transgender people, but serves as a stepping stone for those who seek to undermine the last 150 years of feminist progress, which ensured that gender does not determine the course of our lives. It is alarming that this administration is more concerned with what is in our underwear and which chromosomes we have than it is about protecting our right to free expression.
We all have a stake in creating a world where we are free to be ourselves. We must protect what progress we have made, and invest in efforts to move us forward. Supporting your local LGBTQ+ organizations, questioning candidates on their stances on these issues, and reaching out to your transgender friends, family and neighbors are essential tenets of allyship.
Quinn Gormley is executive director of the Maine Transgender Network, a nonprofit that supports and empowers transgender people across Maine to survive and thrive.
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