May 23, 2019 | 78° F

Rutgers professors argue against Trump's Title IX proposal

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Consequences of Title IX protections being taken away could include no gender-neutral bathrooms, faculty refusing to use a student’s preferred pronouns and students not getting the proper treatment in medical settings.

Last week, The New York Times reported that President Donald J. Trump's administration proposed redefining sex under Title IX, a federal civil rights law that protects people from sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal funding. 

In the leaked Department of Health and Human Services memo, the department proposed that there are only two sexes, male and female, which are unchangeable and determined by the genitalia that a person is born with, according to the Times. 

“The Trump administration is guilty of a biological fiction,” said Kyla Schuller, an associate professor in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies. 

She said that in the 1950s, psychologists and scientists developed the definition of gender to help identify a person’s sexual identity and role.

Schuller said that biological sex has different components, including hormones, chromosomes and genital shape, which can and regularly do misalign within a person’s body.

“Neither sex nor gender is reducible to genitalia at birth, and the Trump administration is deliberately seeking to define trans and intersex people out of existence and thus out of legal protection,” she said. 

Current scientific consensus also opposes the department’s proposed definition of sex. Melinda Mangin, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education, said that 20 medical associations have released statements that gender is internally determined, and not something that is necessarily associated with genitalia. 

“The federal administration is trying to make a policy based on erroneous conclusions that are easily debunked by science,” she said.

Due to Title IX, Mangin said public schools are legally required to protect transgender students. 

What happens in a given school context does not always adhere to the law, she said. Although Title IX is a federal law, only seven states have rulings at the state level that uphold Title IX as providing support to transgender and gender-diverse students, one of them being New Jersey. 

“We would like to see protections in all 50 states,” she said.

Regarding Rutgers specifically, Mangin said that especially after the death of Tyler Clementi in 2010, the University has made concerted efforts to focus on the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Mangin said if Title IX protections are taken away, she believes Rutgers will still have protections for transgender students. 

At other institutions that might be less accepting, she said consequences could include no gender-neutral bathrooms, faculty refusing to use a student’s preferred pronouns or name and students not getting the proper treatment in medical settings.  

Rutgers still has a long way to go in making itself an accommodating space for transgender students. It was just this month when her department established gender-neutral bathrooms, Mangin said as an example. 

“We still have changes to make,” she said. “There’s good intent, but we still have a lot of progress to work on.” 

Overall, Mangin said the memo was a ploy to appeal to Trump’s political base and was unlikely to stick, but it would have an impact on the political cycle by shifting attention away from other issues and further invalidating transgender people. 

“One of the things we see with the Trump memo is this notion of erasing transgender people,” she said. “What’s the next population that is going to be rendered invisible and have their rights reduced?”

Barbra Casbar Siperstein, the first elected transgender member of the Democratic National Committee and part of the advisory board for the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, echoed this statement. 

“This is one way to get back at the LGBTQ community,” she said. “They’re like bullies, they’re gonna pick at the weakest link … but we’re going to fight back.” 

Catherine Nguyen

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