Severino severs science from DHHS’s war against trans rights


Katie Falkenberg

With a new proposal, the Trump administration again threatens transgender people in America. Photo via MCT Campus.

C.N. Williams, Staff Writer

The Department of Health and Human Services formulated a proposal to limit the legal definition of gender to match biological sex assigned at birth, according to a draft obtained by The New York Times.

According to the proposal, The Times wrote, sex would be defined as “either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with.” Their justification for the proposal was that for the language of Title IX, “Congress did not understand ‘sex’ to include gender identity.”

Passing such a proposal would be an act of violence against every transgender person in the United States. It would also actively deny a swath of modern science legitimizing nuances in biological sex and gender identity.

Many transgender people experience gender dysphoria, which Psychology Today defines as “discomfort with one’s own assigned sex that results in significant distress or impairment.”

The webpage adds that people with gender dysphoria who are unable to present as their preferred gender are generally at an increased risk for suicide. A law outright denying any dysphoric person from officially identifying as their preferred gender is therefore a direct act of aggression.

Trans people are already killed, brutalized, and harassed for existing — without such a law. The Human Rights Campaign website lists at least 22 people murdered for being trans in the United States for 2018, at least 29 in 2017, and at least 23 in 2016. Some states, such as Alabama, still allow a “panic” defense in court to justify murdering a gay or trans person.

Modern science largely validates gender identity variance. According to the World Health Organization’s online Genomic Resource Center, gender is “a social construction that varies across different cultures and over time.” The site lists examples of populations existing outside western ideas of gender — like the Somoan fa’afafine, the North American Berdache, the kathoey of Thailand, and the “two-spirit” peoples of certain North American native communities.

Daphna Joel, a professor at Tel Aviv University, co-authored a paper in 2015 discussing the variety of factors that can determine the development of the brain.

After conducting a study on brain scans from 1400 people, Joel and her team found “that many more brains contained a mosaic of ‘male-end’ and ‘female-end’ features than contained only ‘male-end’ or only ‘female-end’ features.”

So rather than a consistent binary across a range of datasets, most people were a healthy mix of characteristics. There was no clear-cut “male brain” or “female brain.” She concluded that differences were possibly due to factors like hormone production, socioeconomic status, education, and even time spent caring for children.

“I was really surprised to see that the effects on the brain can be opposite under different conditions,” Joel said in an interview with Spectrum News.

The DHHS proposal also lacks a caveat for the fact that human genitalia, the suggested basis for their gender ID, does not always conform to an expected binary. Intersexuality is a condition in which individuals are born with reproductive anatomy outside the usual definition of male or female, as defined by the Intersex Society of North America.

So, ample proof of gender and sexual variance exists. The question is then — by what science is the DHHS basing their proposal? Or is the proposal driven primarily by politics?

According to The Times, Roger Severino, Director for the office of Civil Rights within the DHHS, once served as head of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation.

Severino’s position on trans rights is no secret. In 2016 he co-authored an editorial for The Daily Signal, entitled, “3 Ways Conservative Lawmakers Should Fight Obama’s Bathroom Directive.” A biography on the Heritage Foundation’s website credits Severino with publications speaking out against same-sex marriage and arguing that Obama’s gender directive threatened “freedom of conscience.”

By the way, that’s “DeVos” as in Dick and Helen DeVos, who are notably the parental in-laws to Secretary Betsy DeVos of the Department of Education. Before Betsy, the DeVos family was known as “one of the greatest bankrollers of far-right causes in U.S. History, and with their money propelled several extremist Christian politicians and activists to prominence,” according to Jeremy Scahill’s book “Blackwater.”

Luckily for the trans and intersex communities, the DHHS proposal is at present only a draft. There is still time to appeal to your senators, your representatives, and even the regional directors within the DHHS.

After all, America is a democratic republic — if you want it to stay that way, it’s time to put your vote and voice to good use.