During his time as president, Barack Obama extended the federal government’s definition of gender to recognize transgender or non-binary individuals on a federal level for the first time.
Now, the Department of Health and Human Services under the Trump Administration is looking to roll back what was done during the Obama Administration, according to the New York Times. The department would explicitly define the gender binary within the federal government as the sex an individual is assigned at birth. This would make it so a person’s gender or gender identity would be defined as their biological sex, or the genitalia they were born with.
This potential threat against the existence of transgender or non-binary individuals has caused mass panic and worry.
“Trans people are a vulnerable portion of the population,” Niko Coleman, a transgender man, said. “With murder and suicide rates being higher than that of most other groups of people, it is important that trans people are recognized and protected at the federal level.”
Callisto Wojcikowski, who identifies as non-binary, added, “It would mean that, from a legal standpoint, I don’t exist.”
Transgender individuals are those that identify with a gender opposite of the one assigned at birth. While specific laws vary from state to state, overall there are a series of barriers a trans individual has to face in order to legally change their gender.
“Michigan law requires transgender individuals to have, what is commonly referred to as bottom surgery, to change the gender marker on our or their birth certificates,” Niko Coleman, who identifies as a transgender man, said. “Since [surgery] is not something that I want, I'm unable to change my birth certificate. Currently, however, federal law allows transgender people to change the marker on their passport, which can then be used to change the marker on a Michigan License or ID.”
If the federal law were to pass, it would make it nearly impossible for a trans individual to change their gender or identify as a gender opposite of their biological sex.
“It would make it enormously difficult for me to continue living an out and gender-affirming life in this country, and could potentially lead to further, more restrictive legislation that could make it difficult for me to find a job or even update my ID,” Wojcikowski said.
Having your gender changed on legal ID’s is a big step for most transgender individuals.
“It is rather uncomfortable for an individual with a beard to present an ID that has an F on it,” Coleman said.
While nationally many transgender or non-binary individuals are worried about their safety, at WMU many find a sense of comfort. Currently WMU and The Office of LGBT Student Services offer support and resources specifically for transgender individuals.
“I trust in WMU to continue to support our transgender students,” Coleman said. “As an individual from a small, conservative town, WMU is the safest and most understanding place I have been. While I do believe that there is still work to be done, I'm not concerned that a change in policy would prompt WMU to forget about us.”
A big worry within the transgender community is how it will affect society as a whole.
“Donald Trump is encouraging an ideology of exclusion in this country - a fear of the ‘other’,” Wojcikowski said. “People who were already actively transphobic will see this as the federal government giving them a free pass to continue discriminating against others.”
While there is still hope that Donald Trump and his administration won’t go through with the policy, many within the transgender community are looking to get their voices heard.
“Hatred and bigotry is not what the United States as a nation and we as Americans stand for,” Wojcikowski said. “Transgender and nonbinary people are people just as much as anyone else, and we make up roughly 0.6 percent of the adult U.S. population — that’s around 1.4 million people. We deserve rights and recognition. Transgender rights are human rights.”