By Sikivu Hutchinson
At a recent elementary school training I conducted on creating safe spaces for LGBTQI youth, the predominantly black faculty spoke candidly about the scorn little black boys get when they want to play with dolls and the backlash little black girls get when they step out of their “gender place” to “experiment” with boy clothes, short hair and action figures. Though their world views varied, their observations were nearly unanimous—students are presenting as non-binary at earlier ages and even the most “liberal” school districts here in California are failing them in a climate where black gender non-conformity is already criminalized, othered, and erased.
For scores of very young non-binary children, the ability to define themselves for themselves is a radical rebuke of Western Eurocentric power structures that say biology is destiny and queer sexuality should be on lockdown. In this regard, the Trump administration’s potential recission of Obama-era provisions for inclusive and non-binary gender categories is a fascist, Orwellian assault on the gender identities of all Americans who defy the rigid hetero-norms of Christian fundamentalist America. As reported Sunday by the New York Times, “The Department of Health and Human Services is spearheading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX. The new definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable and determined by the genitals a person is born with. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.”
A recission would fatally undermine the inroads trans and non-binary folks have made in education, health care, cultural awareness, and the creation of safe LGBTQI public spaces. Under Betsey DeVos, the U.S. Department of Education has already rescinded Obama-era recommendations for protecting trans students experiencing harassment and “reportedly refused” to file administrative claims on their behalf.
The GOP’s policing of gender identity as a biological, medically determined and “scientifically” delineated “fact” is one of the most dangerous and potentially criminalizing directives that the Trump administration has manufactured. If the Trump administration succeeds in this assault, discrimination against the trans community would be even more deeply enshrined in U.S. public policy and practice than before, and scores of trans and non-binary children would be at greater risk of state-sanctioned discrimination in their schools. To date, only thirteen states, along with the District of Columbia, have implemented non-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQI youth. Non-binary children are more likely to experience sexual harassment, sexual assault and bullying than their non-binary peers. In California, nearly 27% of youth identify as gender non-conforming. According to UCLA’s Williams Institute, these youth were more likely to experience “psychological distress” than “conforming” youth. Black non-binary children are especially at risk of being assigned to foster care, becoming homeless and/or incarcerated due to these interlocking systems of oppression.
In many instances, the spiral of homelessness and incarceration are put in motion because of the absence of culturally responsive resources for queer students of color. A limited number of resource providers and teacher allies provide the care that queer youth of color need to survive hostile, violent environments where they are being pushed out in disproportionate numbers. Yet, some perceive adult providers on campus, including counselors, as “dangerous” because, as one respondent in a 2018 Human Rights Campaign survey commented, “they can get you killed by outing you without your permission”. LGBTQI youth of color in predominantly religious communities are especially vulnerable because they are often subject to ostracism, shaming and harassment due to the perception that their sexuality is “sinful”, deviant or “against god”. As a result, African American trans young women are more likely to experience hostility from school administrators and faculty and to be prevented from claiming their gender identity—a precursor to the disproportionate levels of violence black trans women face.
It is a brutally profound irony that an administration notorious for trashing the scientific evidence on climate change and fetal viability has suddenly become a champion of “immutable” scientific categories on sex and gender. The Trump administration’s cynical deference to science is steeped in medical apartheid-based policies that disenfranchised people of color, queer folks, disabled folks and women of all classes (whether it be Eugenics “science” that was used under slavery and Jim Crow to determine racial categories or white nationalist “science” marshalled to validate sterilization policies targeting women of color).
In their recent Colorlines piece, “Practical Tips for Fighting the Trump Administration’s Latest Assault on Trans People,” Key Jackson and Malcolm Shanks provide a list of trans and gender non-conforming activist organizations of color spearheading leadership on queer and trans resiliency, public policy, and education. But non-queer “allies” and accomplices, as well as parents, caregivers and resource providers, must actively step up to disrupt this latest anti-human rights offense; demanding more training, curricula, counselors, affinity groups and mental health services in K-12 schools. The Trump-Pence regime banks on the silence and complicity of straight, cis folks to steamroll its destructive crusade over black queer and trans bodies of color.