The Trump administration’s reported effort to define transgender people out of existence is a tool of horrific violence, and its implications endanger people here in the United States as well as around the world. This transphobic and wrongheaded move puts the U.S. out of step with international law and basic human rights. It’s a dehumanizing measure that recalls some of the most shameful chapters of our history, including the subjugation of Indigenous peoples and chattel slavery, and we should be deeply alarmed.
The news of Donald Trump’s latest anti-LGBTI extremism flies in the face of global human rights progress for LGBTI people, coming mere days after Uruguay passed a law granting rights to transgender people, prohibiting discrimination under current laws and ensuring they can access the health care they need. Across the world, Australia recently became the 27th country to legalize same-sex marriage. And this September, India’s highest court struck down colonial-era antisodomy laws.
But there are other places in the world where LGBTI people fight for their existence on the most fundamental of levels, and people in these regions are at increased risk if the Trump administration’s bigotry becomes policy. Some hurdles are grave, like Uganda’s efforts to impose the death penalty for the “crime” of homosexuality and Finland’s invasive requirement that someone be declared to have a “mental disorder” and be sterilized to have their gender officially reassigned. If Trump gets his way, it will further embolden transphobic and homophobic movements and governments everywhere.
The Trump administration has made no effort to hide its admiration for oppressive regimes in Turkey, Russia, and Saudi Arabia that are especially toxic for LGBTI people. We have seen Trump’s disdain for freedom of expression and human rights echoed in these governments’ policies toward civil society. There is no reason to expect that Trump’s efforts to erase transgender people won’t also have horrific consequences abroad.
Any move to define sex as that “set at birth” and gender as immutable is not only meant to severely curtail transgender people's rights and erase their identity here at home; it is a move to impinge on the basic humanity and dignity of people everywhere. The Trump administration is demanding the sole right to define sex and gender — characteristics it insists are immutable. This defies scientific and medical definitions as well as basic human rights. For some, the “sex” they are assigned at birth does not fit with their gender identity. What’s more, it negates the rights of intersex people — an estimated 1.7 percent of the population — who are born with sex characteristics that exist outside of narrow definitions of “female” or “male” sex.
This administration seems to be fixated on rolling back LGBTI rights, particularly rights for transgender people. From rolling back protections for trans students to seeking to implement a ban on trans troops in the military to promoting legal discrimination against trans people in the workplace, this latest attempt is part of a long line of policies that seek to deny basic rights to trans people, this time by simply erasing them from existence in the eyes of the government.
Everyone has the right to freedom from violence and discrimination, the right to health care, the right to marry and to have a family. These are rights the Trump administration has consistently stood against for LGBTI people, with global effects. Any move to simply erase people is a move away from human rights, and it implicates us all.
Tarah Demant, Ph.D., is the director of the Gender, Sexuality, and Identity Program at Amnesty International USA and a former professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies.