Transgender People and Allies Protest Trump Plan at Rallies and on Social Media
L.G.B.T. activists mobilized a fast and fierce campaign that included a protest outside the White House on Monday to say transgender people cannot be expunged from society, in response to an unreleased Trump administration memo that proposes a strict definition of gender based on a person’s genitalia at birth.
Within hours, the hashtag #WontBeErased circulated on social media. By Sunday evening, a rally for transgender rights took place in New York; another took place on Monday in Washington.
With the White House as their backdrop, speakers repeated the phrase “We will not be erased,” which has become a rallying cry against the proposal. The 45-minute rally, attended by what appeared to be at least several hundred people, repeatedly referred to the coming midterm elections and encouraged people to vote.
Masen Davis, the chief executive of Freedom for All Americans, a bipartisan group that works for nondiscrimination protections for L.G.B.T. people, told the crowd the memo seemed to be an attempt to “score political points in an election.”
“This is not a red or blue issue, this is a human issue,” he said, to cheers and applause.
Jay Brown, a deputy director of the Human Rights Campaign, said there were 10 million L.G.B.T.Q. voters and “millions” more who were allies.
“We have just three words for you: November is coming,” he said.
The Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government funding, according to the memo obtained by The Times. The new definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable and determined by the genitalia a person is born with. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.
Roger Severino, the director of the Office for Civil Rights at the department, declined to answer detailed questions about the memo.
The new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.
“You saw such a massive response because this attack on the trans community is essentially trying to erase the trans community from the face of this country and we’re not going to stand for that,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and chief executive of Glaad, a media advocacy group for L.G.B.T. people.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said, “This is a really intrusive policy that doesn’t make any sense scientifically.”
Ms. Keisling said she and her staff woke up on Sunday to the news of the memo and quickly planned a response. The hashtag #WontBeErased felt appropriate to them. “What this feels like to transgender people is trying to make us invisible, trying to say that we don’t exist, trying to say that we are nothing,” she said.
The American public is divided over whether it is possible for a person’s gender to differ from the sex they were assigned at birth, according to a Pew Research Center survey published last year, amid debates over which public bathrooms transgender people should use.
It said the divide was evident along political lines, with eight in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents saying that whether someone is a man or a woman is determined by the sex they were assigned at birth. About 64 percent of Democrats or those who hold their views say a person’s gender can be different from the sex they were assigned at birth.
The debate has burst to the forefront of cultural debates in individual states over which public bathrooms transgender people can use. In North Carolina last year, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and transgender rights advocates hammered out a settlement that would allow transgender people to use public restrooms that match their gender identity, repealing a law that had restricted access.
On Monday, the conservative NC Values Coalition, which had opposed the North Carolina bathroom settlement as “a massive power grab,” said the Trump administration was “clarifying what it means to be a man or a woman — it’s an immutable condition determined at birth by genitalia and biology.”
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the coalition, said such a position was “critical in this confused world to define these terms as Congress intended them when federal programs such as Title IX were passed.”
The #WontBeErased hashtag took off on social media, as people posted photos of themselves or family members to show the faces of transgender people — who, they noted, would continue to exist regardless of the government’s definition of gender.
Chelsea Manning, a transgender advocate who on Saturday tweeted a photograph of herself recovering from surgery, also responded on Twitter, saying “laws don’t determine our existence — *we* determine our existence.”
The rally outside the White House on Monday followed one on Sunday evening in which, supporters said, a few hundred people gathered at Washington Square Park in Manhattan to endorse transgender rights.
The policy that was proposed in the memo would be among the most significant efforts to reverse the Obama administration’s more fluid recognition of gender identity. The Trump administration has sought to bar transgender people from serving in the military and has legally challenged their civil rights protections embedded in the Affordable Care Act.
Experts said the policy would apply to issues of sex discrimination, such as students who are denied access to the school bathroom that aligns with their gender identity or a transgender woman who is refused a female room assignment at a hospital.
Under the proposed policy, such discrimination would not be protected in the view of the federal government, said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal, which works for L.G.B.T. rights and helped organize Sunday’s rally.
But in practice, he said, transgender people would still have legal protection because the courts have ruled that they are covered under the umbrella of sex discrimination.
“It just means the struggle will be that much harder,” he said, adding that the government may decide not to tell institutions how to follow the law and may not enforce the law when discrimination occurs.
At Monday’s rally, Ian Thompson, a legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the “hateful” policy was an attempt to write the existence of transgender people out of federal law.
“It cannot and will not go unchallenged,” he said. “Not on our watch.”
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