LGBTQ+ university professionals weigh in on possible definition of sex by Department of Health and Human Services

By Austin Phelps, Staff Reporter

The Department of Health and Human Services is trying to establish a definition of sex, which would define it as unchangeable and assigned at birth as either male or female based on genitalia.

Chloe Goldbach, a transgender woman and instructor for women, gender and sexuality studies at the university, said the definition is problematic on many levels.

“This would mean that a transgender individual would not be able to change their sex on their birth certificate, regardless of documentation provided or medical procedures undergone,” Goldbach said. “Focusing on only male or female seeks to further [damage] the transgender community by erasing non-binary individuals.”


Goldbach said transgender individuals who have not changed legal identification would encounter barriers.

“Even though we typically understand that the M, F, or X for non-binary, is a gender marker, the term sex is often used on these documents,” Goldbach said. “Therefore this policy could prevent individuals from changing their documentation to be in line with their gender identity if their gender does not align with their sex assigned at birth.”

This could also cause problems for individuals who have already changed their documentation, Goldbach said. The HHS memo states any dispute regarding sex would be determined by genetic testing.

In theory, if someone’s identification were questioned, genetic testing could be done and this could be used as grounds to reverse documentation to have gender and sex markers that are not in line with their gender identity, Goldbach said.

“This is clearly problematic because it is a tool that denies the existence of transgender individuals because gender identity is not to be valued on documentation with this policy,” Goldbach said.

Lori Stettler, vice chancellor for student affairs, said she is not aware that any official definition of sex has been established by the university.

“As an institution with a long standing history of access, we value diversity and inclusion and will continue to serve students whose gender-identity may not be the sex they were assigned at birth,” Stettler said.


According to the New York Times, any question of sex under the definition would be determined by genetic testing.

Virginia Tilley, a professor of political science at the university, said this is a discriminatory policy.

“This is a policy designed to discredit and delegitimize people’s actual experience, to take away protections people have. To take away categories that fit their needs,” Tilley said.

Tilley said the proposed definition of sex reminds her of racial categories.

“They want to define race out of existence in order not to provide Affirmative Action,” Tilley said.

Vernon Cooper, the LGBTQ+ resource center coordinator at the university, said the proposed definition reminds him of the anti-transgender bathroom bills.

“Completely unexecutable and designed only to create hysteria and an increasingly unsafe environment for trans people in public spaces,” Cooper said.

Tilley said in the short-term this can make people afraid.

“It’s yet another blow just when [the transgender community] thought they were making progress and having some kind of safe space in society,” Tilley said. “Which is a great shame because what we need is for this to normalize and for trans people to be able to share their experiences more fully and more openly.”

Goldbach said this will just lead to further misunderstanding, stigma and discrimination.

“If someone identifies as a woman but you force them to have M listed on their documents, this will clearly create problems every time that they need to show their ID to someone,” Goldbach said.

Goldbach said gender identity is one’s internal concept of how they identify in terms of their gender. Whether that be male, female, or somewhere beyond the male-female binary.

“Gender is about who you identify as, while your sex is about anatomical characteristics. Identity and anatomy are clearly not the same thing,” Goldbach said. “For cisgender people, gender and sex do align. For transgender people, gender and sex do not align.”

Forcing people to be identified by their sex rather than their gender ignores a crucial part of a transgender person’s identity, Goldbach said. Which then propagates further misunderstanding, stigma, microaggressions and discrimination.

Cooper said he is furious for the current coming-of-age generation that was promised by his generation, that things would change.

“I should add that SIU has no intention of walking back protections or resources for trans and gender nonconforming students until someone finds a way to force us,” Cooper said.

Goldbach said her and other transgender people will continue to fight back against bigotry and transphobia.

“Many in the community, myself included, are proud of who we are and are living our most authentic lives,” Goldbach said. “We are not going to disappear or go back into closet because of things like this.”

Staff reporter Austin Phelps can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @austinphelps96.

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