Gender equality groups remain strong despite attacks

By William Fitzpatrick

Americans who identify as transgender could have their identity wiped from existence due to a proposed change from the Trump administration. A leaked memo from the Department of Health and Human Services published by the New York Times last October outlines plans to redefine “gender” to be based on one’s birth genitalia, eliminating transgender as an identity.

From a legal perspective, Barbara Stark, a professor of family law and human rights at Hofstra University, said there are more pressing issues for the Department of Health and Human Services to be concerned with than changing the definition of gender and thinks it should be left to state law to determine gender identities.

“State law, historically and traditionally, is where your birth records are and where your family law records are kept. [This] has historically been the province of the state,” said Stark.

Despite what is being considered an attack on their human rights, those involved with the local transgender community say this is nothing new.

“We are regularly being inundated with news of the Trump administration doing something to our community, so this isn’t the first time,” said Juli Grey-Owens, board chair and executive director of the nonprofit organization Gender Equality New York. “It’s going to be a setback whether we like it or not.” Grey-Owens was active in a local movement that led to the passage of a New York State law in 2015 that protects transgender workers working at companies contracted to the Town of North Hempstead. Her activism continued in early 2016 when she contacted transgender advocates and organized some 20 transgender town halls across New York State, said Grey-Owens.

The number of hate crimes against the transgender community has increased in the United States since the Trump administration took office, with FBI statistics showing a jump from 76 in 2015 to 119 in 2017.

“It’s something that we’re used to happening,” said Aiden Kaplan, LGBTQ youth services manager for Pride for Youth, a division of the not-for-profit organization, Long Island Crisis Center. “Sometimes people feel like their world is falling apart when there are attacks on who they are, and we just reassure them not to panic and to stay calm in these situations.”

“It’s horrible news… but not totally unexpected,” said Mila Madison, executive director of the Transgender Resource Center of Long Island. “Watching the community… they’re really scared. It’s hard to see.”

Madison believes a change in culture could have the same effect on the transgender community as it did three years ago on the same-sex marriage ruling.

“One of the biggest things I think that happened in the fight for marriage equality is people started going to gay weddings,” agreed Juli Grey-Owens of Gender Equality New York. “They go to these weddings… and all of a sudden an idea that used to be yucky is maybe okay because they see these people and they’re in love.”

Madison agreed. “I always viewed it as more of a culture issue than a political issue. You can’t just ram laws down people’s throats and expect the world to change for us. The change comes with the culture. Getting out there and telling our story, that’s what changes the world.”