TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now/AP) - It’s a fight for their rights.
Members of Tucson’s transgender community are reacting in disbelief, as the Trump Administration is reportedly working on rules to define gender in America.
“Why now? What is going on? It wasn’t so much shock or dismay on my part. I was just ticked off,” said Erin Russ, the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance Director of Programs, giving her initial reaction upon hearing the news.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that the Department of Health and Human Services was circulating a memo proposing that gender be defined as an immutable biological condition determined by a person’s sex organs at birth. The proposal would define sex as either male or female, and any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified through genetic testing, according to the Times' account of the memo.
The Department of Health and Human Services said Monday it would not comment on “alleged leaked documents.”
President Donald Trump briefly addressed the latest controversy as he left for a political trip to Houston, but left unclear how his administration plans to proceed.
"We're looking at it. We have a lot of different concepts right now. They have a lot of different things happening with respect to transgender right now. You know that as well as I do. We're looking at it very seriously. I'm protecting everybody. You know what I'm doing? I'm protecting everybody. I want to protect our country," he said before walking away from media members outside the White House.
The memo has left Russ mystified.
"In effect, it basically is an attempt to erase our existence," said Russ, a transgender woman.
Protections put in place by the Obama Administration in 2016 are potentially being pulled out from under her.
"They're going to be using the budget to potentially force organizations to not support transgender care. But more importantly, it's going to give those medical providers who may or may not want to serve transgender people, permission to say, 'No, you're a freak. I'm not going to serve you,'" Russ said.
According to a 2016 estimate by the Williams Institute, there are about 1.4 million transgender adults in the United States, with more than 30,000 transgender adults living in Arizona.
Russ believes the gender distinction could lead to gender discrimination of employment, housing, and most importantly medical treatment, if healthcare protections are rolled back.
The Cabinet agency had acknowledged months ago that it was working to rewrite a federal rule that bars discrimination in health care based on “gender identity.” It cited a Texas-based federal judge’s opinion that the original rule went too far in concluding that discrimination based on gender identity is a form of sex discrimination, which is forbidden by civil rights laws, according to the Associated Press report.
A report posted by the Arizona Department of Health Services said that 26 percent of respondents to a 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey experienced a problem with their insurance related to being transgender in Arizona, such as being denied coverage for care related to gender transition or being denied coverage for routine care because they were transgender.
“If somebody believes that we are all created equal, and that we all have the right to work hard and get ahead and contribute to society, then this is a slap in the face,” Russ said.