Department of Health and Human Services threatens trans rights
Following the recently leaked trans memo, a document obtained by The New York Times detailing the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) efforts to establish a legal definition of sex that would curtail a series of Obama-era decisions that loosened the national conception of gender, a coalition of student clubs on campus held an emergency meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 23.
The event, entitled “How the Trump Administration Will Legislate Transgender Americans Out of Existence – Digesting the Horrifying Policy Proposal that Would Eliminate Transgender Rights in the United States of America,” packed the Plaza Middle and West Rooms. The event gathered numerous campus clubs in support of transgender rights and featured a presentation on the memo and a discussion on ways people can help support the safety of transgender people in the wake of the leak.
Co-sponsored by Hofstra’s Queer Trans People of Color Coalition (QTPOCC), The Gender Identity Federation (TGIF), The Pride Network, Campus Feminist Collective, Student Advocates for Safer Sex, Young Democratic Socialists of Hofstra and the Democrats of Hofstra University, the event broke down a collaboratively club-created 16-page document on the memo.
Ja’Loni Owens, a senior public policy and journalism student, co-hosted the event.
“We need to show up for trans folx right now. There are such devastating consequences of writing a class of people out of existence,” Owens said. “The law will say trans folx cannot exist, and that makes them even more vulnerable.”
Packets of the document were distributed to attendees alongside pages locating safe rooms in the upstairs Intercultural Engagement and Inclusion office.
Riley Lisa, a junior psychology major and treasurer of TGIF, co-hosted the event with Owens.
“I think events such as the one we held tonight are important to have students at Hofstra be politically involved in issues impacting specific minority groups. Since the memo directly impacts trans people, it was good to see that cis students came to attend the event tonight,” Lisa said.
“In order to fight this memo and protect trans rights, we need to have a lot of people supporting us and be[ing] vocal about how damaging the memo is.”
Lisa began the presentation by establishing ground rules, such as not speaking when others do, being self-aware and making space for all voices to be heard.
“Be respectful of everyone who has contributed to this presentation and everyone looking to empower themselves,” Lisa said. “Do not speak over anybody else.”
Owens continued the presentation with a deconstruction of the political context for the memo, including coverage of Obama-era decisions on gender and the current effort by the HHS to establish an explicit and uniform definition of gender.
“This memo states that the federal government will adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender as determined ‘on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable,’” Owens said.
HHS staff contact information, an interactive website called Countable that streamlines political activism, politicians with pro-transgender rights platforms, scripts for calling the HHS and other resources were provided at the meeting alongside information on a 60-day public comment period during which students and other supporters of transgender rights could call in objections to the new gender definition. The period will begin following regulations released by the Department of Education and HHS this fall.
Brynne Levine, a sophomore public relations major, president of the Democrats of Hofstra University and co-organizer of the event, emphasized the importance of understanding the political climate, especially before Election Day.
“Knowing who your local politicians, who your senators, your reps, your governors are is so, so important,” Levine said. “Those are the guys who are going to pass important bills and memos, the people who are your direct line to getting things done in government. Stay updated and stay informed and vote.”
Following the presentation, students in attendance discussed specific issues surrounding trans-rights today. Several students stressed the importance of voting in local and national elections.
“Voting for local judges is important to prevent people with reactionary views in law from entering into and ascending the judicial ranks up to the federal level, where many court cases for trans people regarding discrimination have ended up going,” said Daniel Davidson, a senior political science major. “Kavanaugh didn’t come from nowhere.”
International students asked about how they could help as non-voters. “International students can help by also supporting trans people’s rights in their countries, since this is an issue on a global scale, and effects are carried across borders,” Davidson said. “We can all help each other and the world by supporting political movements that seek to build trans-rights across countries.”