Over 1,600 Scientists Signed An Open Letter Against The Trump Administration’s Gender Memo

by Mika Doyle
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Members of the scientific community have banded together to sign an open letter opposing the Trump Administration’s memo that attempts to narrow the legal definition of gender, BuzzFeed News reports. The letter includes the signatures of eight Nobel laureates, says BuzzFeed News, and was written in response to a memo written in the spring of 2017 by the Department of Health and Human Services, which reportedly urging government agencies to adopt a legal definition of sex “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.”

The memo, which was leaked by The New York Times in an Oct. 21 article, also reportedly outlined that genetic testing would be used to clarify disputes over a person’s sex, says BuzzFeed News, a claim that scientists have since disputed as unscientific and unethical.

“As a trans woman and as a scientist, [the memo is] inherently an attack on my humanity, my ability to exist in the world, and to safely navigate certain spaces,” Mika Tosca, an assistant professor of climate science at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, told BuzzFeed News. “It was really important that we gather as many scientists as we could to say that so scientists ourselves were not complicit in promoting this wholly flawed, non-scientific effort.”

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22 biologists and other scientists collaborated on this grassroots effort, and since its publication on Oct. 26, the open letter has garnered more than 1,600 signatures from the scientific community. They’re calling on the Trump administration to withdraw its proposal and are urging elected officials to oppose its implementation because changing the legal definition of gender “would cause grave harm to transgender and intersex Americans and weaken the constitutional rights of all Americans,” according to the letter. The letter goes on to explain that the Trump administration’s memo is “unscientific and promotes pseudoscience."

“There are no genetic tests that can unambiguously determine gender or even sex,” the letter states, and “even if such tests existed, it would be unconscionable to use the pretext of science to enact policies that overrule the lived experience of people’s own gender identities.”

The letter explains how a gender binary aligned to sex simply does not exist, and how the proposal, if implemented, would directly affect transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming people. According to the Intersex Society of North America, around one in every 2,000 babies in the United States is born intersex, which means their reproductive anatomy can differ from their chromosomes. And around 1 million adults in the United States identifies as transgender, says the American Public Health Association, which means their gender identities don’t correspond with the genders they were assigned at birth.

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For intersex people in particular, the letter states, the implementation of the policies outlined in the Trump administration's memo could result in an increase in medically unnecessary and high-risk surgeries at birth. These types of non-consensual surgeries increase health risks into adulthood and violate the rights of intersex people to bodily autonomy, says the letter.

“As a geneticist and as someone who studies reproduction on a biological level, I can safely say that their scientific reasons are simply not based in science,” Mollie Manier, an assistant professor of biology at George Washington University and one of the coauthors of the letter, told BuzzFeed News. “The science on gender is very much still in development, but more importantly, the lived experiences of transgender and intersex people should not be co-opted by a genetic test."

The authors of the letter are still taking signatures from others in the scientific community, and they vet and update them a few times a day. Even though the letter is directed to elected officials, the authors say they hope to reach transgender and intersex people, so they know the scientific community is behind them. Ultimately, the authors want the nation to know the scientific community does not stand behind the Trump administration's proposed policy, which is not rooted in fact or science.