By KATE SELTZER
On Oct. 21, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration is seeking to legally define sex as “a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” The Federal Department of Health and Human Services will attempt to establish this definition under Title IX, the law which prohibits sex discrimination at educational institutions which receive federal funding.
“I believe at this point it is unclear exactly how the policy will impact universities [and specifically] UMW or if it will become law,” said Tiffany Oldfield, UMW’s Title IX coordinator. “However, UMW and the Office of Title IX are committed to supporting all of our students, including our transgender and non-binary students. Today and tomorrow, we will continue to uphold our community values ‘ASPIRE’ and cultivate and nurture an environment that is free of sex and gender-based discrimination and embraces diversity and inclusion for all.”
Although UMW does not include gender identity in its Title IX policy, it does have a non-discrimination policy adopted by the Board of Visitors. The statement of non-discrimination on UMW’s website reads that “the University does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation)… or other non-merit based factors in recruiting, admitting, enrolling students or hiring and promoting faculty and staff members.”
President Troy Paino said that the Title IX guidelines that prohibit sex discrimination are a minimum standard and that universities are free to implement policies and protections that go beyond the scope of the law.
“[Protection of gender identity and expression] is also embedded in our statement of community values that promotes inclusive excellence,” Paino said. “UMW will continue to protect the rights of transgender and nonbinary students both because it is a policy and value of this university.”
Students were overwhelmingly opposed to Trump’s proposed policy change.
“UMW PRISM condemns the decisions of this administration to limit the rights of trans, nonbinary, and intersex individual,” said Erin Shaw, president of UMW’s People for the Rights of Individuals of Sexual Minorities (PRISM) club. “Gender is not binary, and its expression is endless. Limiting the rights of individuals who do not identify as cisgender is an attack on the LGBT+ community.”
“I think it’s really upsetting that that’s what our president is doing and I’m really disappointed by it,” said Tirzah Rao, a junior sociology and biology major.
Sophomore and business administration major Julianna Caddell agreed.
“I personally think that it’s literally nothing but bigotry, what he’s doing,” she said. “There’s no real reason for him doing it otherwise. I can’t even fathom why someone would take the time to write an order for that when there’s so many other problems in the world.”
According to the memo from the US Department of Health and Human Services, as reported by the New York Times, the justification for implementing this policy was to establish a uniform definition of gender that is “clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The World Health Organization defines gender as “the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men,” all of which are fluid and can be subject to change.
Senior geography major Marion Punches said that Trump’s proposed policy is a far too narrow definition of sex.
“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “If you’re going to do that, you specifically know the fact that you’re excluding people from that type of protection. At least if you’re going to be pigheaded like that, you should still have some way that people are being protected and their rights are being protected.”
Abby Cassell, a junior international affairs major, expressed a similar sentiment.
“I don’t agree with what [Trump] is doing,” she said. “I think that everybody has rights, no matter what gender they are or what they identify as.”
Junior English major Krista Beucler agreed, as did junior psychology major Chad Velezis.
“I don’t think that he should just be able to willy nilly take rights away,” Beucler said.
“I think it should just be an equal opportunity given to everyone to determine how they identify, and people should equally respect them for whatever choices they make and however they represent themselves,” Velezis said. “I stay away from politics, so I guess coming from a non-political standpoint, I would just view it as a negative. I think it definitely restricts freedom at its base level fundamentally, and I don’t think it’s a problem to begin with that needs to be solved.”
The Title IX policy change is the most recent attempt by the Trump administration to limit the rights of transgender people. Other initiatives include seeking to ban transgender people from serving in the military and removing Obama-era guidelines, which recognized gender identity in institutions such as schools and prisons. The new policy will be formally presented to the Justice Department before the end of the year.