Department of Health and Human Services Aims to Redefine Legal Definition of “Sex” Under Title IX

The Department of Health and Human Services has launched an initiative to establish a legal definition for “sex” under the federal Title IX civil rights law which currently bans gender discrimination in educational institutions and programs that receive federal funding. The New York Times obtained a memo detailing this effort, as reported on October 21, 2018.

In the memo, the department argues that government agencies under the Trump administration must adopt a uniform, narrowly defined definition of gender, one that is determined by biology, and therefore, it claims, more easily administrable. The department proposes to define sex as either male or female, determined by genitals at birth, and unchangeable at any point thereafter. Any dispute associated with an individual’s sex would be resolved by use of genetic testing.

This new definition would remove federal recognition of approximately 1.4 million Americans who identify as transgender. It may also adversely affect intersex Americans. Several government agencies have already withdrawn policies and guidance penned during the Obama administration that recognized gender identity and respected an individual’s choice to self-identify in settings such as schools, prisons, and homeless shelters.

While officials within the department seem to view the Obama administration’s guidelines as lawless attempts to redefine what it means to be male or female (per a 2016 commentary piece cowritten by Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at the department), civil rights groups have been attempting to meet with federal officials in the past few weeks to state their case against the proposed definition.

Catherine E. Lhamon, who helped write the guidance on gender identity in the Obama administration’s Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, stated that the department’s proposed definition “negates the humanity” of an entire subset of the American people.

According to Trump officials, the Department of Health and Human Services aims to formally present its new definition to the Justice Department by the end of this year.

Additional Reading

‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration, The New York Times, October 21, 2018

‘I’m Protecting Everybody,’ President Trump Says After Reports His Administration Wants to Strip Transgender Protections, Time, October 22, 2018

Photo Credit: Vdovichenko Denis /