When Trans Lives Are Under Attack

Defending trans rights through voting, money, time, and more


A memo leaked last week to the New York Times states that the Department of Health and Human Services wants to create a legal definition of sex under Title IX as “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.” This new biological definition of sex erases the existence of the over 1.4 million transgender people in America whose gender does not normatively align with the sex they were assigned at birth.

The potential repercussions for the implementation of this memo are devastating. According to CNN, “such a definition could exclude transgender people from existing federal civil rights protections in education, employment and access to health care.”

This memo is not an isolated move to deny trans Americans their rights. For over a year and a half now, the Trump administration has worked relentlessly to roll back civil rights protections for trans people. Examples include in February 2017 when the Departments of Justice and Education withdrew 2016 guidance on how schools must protect trans students under Title IX, in Dec. 2017, when staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were told to avoid use of the word “transgender” in official documents, in March 2018, when the Trump administration declared a ban on trans people serving in the military, and in May 2018, when the Department of Justice announced an official policy of placing trans people in federal prisons that match their sex assigned at birth rather than their gender.

Trans rights are being threatened not just on a federal level, but on the state level as well. For Massachusetts’ 2018 midterm elections, there’s a question on the ballot to repeal a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in public accomodations. A "Yes" on Question 3 would keep the law in place while a "No" vote would repeal it.


I urge all registered voters in Massachusetts to make their voices heard and vote Yes to protect trans Americans from discrimination.

Opponents to this anti-discrimination law often cite fears of increased sexual harassment and assault in bathrooms by men pretending to be women. However, the Williams Institute, a UCLA Law School think tank specializing in sexual orientation and gender identity, found no link between the 2016 passage of the Massachusetts nondiscrimination public accommodations law and the “number or frequency of criminal incidents in restrooms, locker rooms or changing rooms.” Over 300 of the nation’s leading sexual assault and domestic violence prevention organizations released a statement in support of nondiscrimination laws that allow trans people to use the restroom that matches their gender. In the statement, these organizations explained that trans people already face high rates of sexual assault, and that laws forcing them into public spaces that do not match their gender will only exacerbate this and make an already vulnerable population even more susceptible to assault. Thus, the claim that discriminating against trans people will make our communities safer is nothing more than fear-mongering to excuse hate.

For those of us who can vote in Massachusetts, show your support for trans Americans by voting yes on 3 on Nov. 6. Beyond voting, you can get involved through volunteering your time and donating your money to the Yes on 3 campaign. See which canvassing and phone bank events are happening near you. There are multiple events happening in Cambridge, such as the GOTV from Nov. 3 to 6, and the Public Education Phone Banks on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.

Even after election day, there are ways ways you can get involved to protect the rights of trans Americans. Organizations like the National Center for Transgender Equality, Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, Trans Women of Color Collective, Trans Lifeline, Trans Student Educational Resources, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Gender Spectrum, and Transgender Law Center advocate for trans people. They are all accepting donations, some are looking for volunteers, and others have specific actions outlined on their websites that supporters can follow.

In this political climate, trans rights are under constant attack. The leaked memo and ballot question on trans nondiscrimination are just two examples in a long line of discriminatory policies that deny trans people the right to exist. We must be vigilant today, tomorrow, on Nov. 6, and every day to help defend trans existence. Whatever resources you have, whether that be access to voting, money, time, emotional energy, or anything else, use them to further trans equality and thriving.

Becina J. Ganther ’20, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a History of Science concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.


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