There are 16 transgender candidates on ballots in races for offices from local city council seats to governor this year, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund. And news that the Department of Health and Human Services is proposing to end legal recognition of their gender status was met with outrage from many of those candidates this week — while also creating a bit of a political dilemma.
They do not hide their gender identities, nor do they deny the historical significance of their emergence onto the political stage, but most say they aim to focus on issues other than their sexuality. This week, however, that became harder than ever.
“My campaign is not about me as an individual,” says Amelia Marquez, a candidate for the Montana House of Representatives, who, like all 16, is running as a Democrat. “Yes, I’m trans, but I am also a Latina, a daughter, a sister and my campaign is about issues that affect all of us as Montanans.”
“I don’t run on identity politics,” echoed Brianna Titone, a Democrat running for the Colorado Statehouse. “I am running on the issues that are important to the district.”
Still, the HHS proposal demanded a response, candidates say. The New York Times, which first reported the existence of a memo outlining the proposed policy, quotes it as defining an individual’s sex as “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” and that “the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”
It is the latest in what transgender rights advocates see as an attempt to make them legal nonentities. Since Donald Trump took office, his administration has rescinded antidiscrimination protections for transgender students, reversed a Bureau of Prisons policy that would take gender identity into account in housing assignments, attempted to ban transgender service members from the military and argued that transgender workers are not covered by Title VII protections against discrimination in the workplace.
If enacted as proposed, the HHS policy would “erase our very existence as transgender people,” said Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center. An estimated 1.4 million Americans, or 0.6 percent of the population, identify as transgender.
The transgender candidates contacted for this article all agreed that while they would prefer to talk about other subjects, they could not let this threat go unanswered. They all also aimed to put that threat into a more universal context.
“The Trump administration’s proposed decision flies in the face of science, common sense and basic human decency,” said Christine Hallquist, the Democratic candidate for governor of Vermont. “We need to win in November and take power away from those who abuse it. And, as always, we must take care of each other and protect marginalized people in our communities.”
“We have seen this before in history where people are denied rights,” said Titone. “I want everyone to be treated right, I don’t want rights taken away from anyone I represent — trans people, people of color, people of any culture or religion.”
“At the end of the day,” Marquez said, “Americans in general, and certainly Montanans, don’t want to tolerate discrimination in any way, shape or form. That should go without saying.” And rather than having to say it, she says, “I’d like to focus on the issues that matter.”
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