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Proposed Federal Re-Definition of Sex Only Latest in Anti-Transgender Attacks from Right

This article first appeared on November 1, 2018 on Political Research Associates.

On October 21, The New York Times reported receiving information from the White House that details how the Trump Administration proposes to impose a multi-agency re-interpretation of “sex” under several civil rights laws to mean “[t]he sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued.” Further, it would codify “sex” as only existing in a binary of male and female “based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” despite scientific evidence to the contrary. This development would not only erase transgender, non-binary, and intersex people by definition and in protections under the law, but also re-entrench a Christian Right vision of gender that is based on “complementarity,” the idea that God made man and woman to serve their own roles and to fit together, literally and figuratively. What the administration proposes is the culmination of Christian Right strategy to attack gender equity and justice.

Well-funded by the Evangelical and Christian Right donor bases, the Vice President and his supporters have been pushing for this move since they came into power.

Anti-transgender leaders have made their way into the Trump Administration with the minimum bipartisan support required for confirmation in the deeply divided Senate. Roger Servino is the head of the Office of Civil Rights within the Department of Health and Human Services, and likely leader of the push to re-interpret “sex.” Servino previously led the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation. While at Heritage, Servino repeatedly celebrated the passage of anti-transgender legislation and attacked the Obama administration for its support for LGBTQ people. In 2016, Servino wrote for the Heritage-affiliated Daily Signal that “[LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination] laws cannot help but harm religious liberty.” The rhetoric that LGBTQ-inclusive laws somehow undermine religious freedom has been flaunted by the Vice President and other state legislators for years, and resulted in the passage of nearly a dozen laws permitting some level of LGBTQ-targeted religious exemptions, including four states which permit medical professionals to decline to serve LGBTQ patients.

Servino is not the only anti-LGBTQ voice in a position to undermine civil rights protections at the federal level. In early October, the Senate confirmed the appointment of Eric Dreiband as head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Vanita Gupta served in this position in the latter years of Obama’s presidency, after the Senate refused to confirm a successor to Tom Perez. Gupta famously led the DOJ’s suit against the State of North Carolina and the University of North Carolina in the wake of HB 2, the “bathroom bill.” North Carolina lost the suit, and amended its law. Dreiband represented the University of North Carolina in that suit.

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