On Sunday, The New York Times reported that the Trump administration is planning on implementing a narrow definition of gender under Title IX — a move that would effectively erase legal protection and deny government recognition for transgender people. The proposed change, which undoes Obama-era guidances that affect the education, labor, justice, and health and human services departments, is unwarranted, callously cruel, destructive, and possibly illegal.
As one of the most prominent institutions of higher education in America, Cornell must loudly object to these proposed changes. If they are implemented, Cornell must reiterate its support for and recognition of transgender members of our community, and New York State should take action to counteract the federal government’s mistake.
We were heartened to see that Cornell, two days before the Times’ report, published a guide on “gender transition and affirmation in the workplace” for its employees and HR staff, and reiterated its commitment to “diversity and inclusion … beyond merely adhering to legal and institutional nondiscrimination policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of … gender identity and expression.” Providing resources on items as fundamental as name and pronoun changes is a primary responsibility of any forward-looking organization, and we applaud Cornell for that.
The Trump administration’s move is just the latest in a series meant to diminish, demean and dehumanize America’s transgender population, but it will have the farthest-reaching consequences. Without any guarantee of protection from the federal government, it will fall to state and local governments to support their transgender constituencies.
Amazingly, New York State still does not include gender identity as a protected quality under its Human Rights Law. Although Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order in 2015 including transgender New Yorkers under state protections, that order could easily be rescinded by a less tolerant governor (much like we have seen at the federal level).
The New York State Legislature should pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination — or GENDA — Act, which would amend the Human Rights Law to include protections for transgender people. This bill has passed the State Assembly seven times, but the Republican-held State Senate continues to kill it. In light of these new moves by the Trump administration, such intransigence by our state legislators cannot be stomached by New Yorkers anymore.
Republican State Senate Majority Leader Sen. John Flanagan is a Cornell trustee. His colleagues on the board and in the Cornell administration, and the students whose interests he serves, should do their very best to impress on him the importance of passing the GENDA Act as quickly as possible.
And if he is unwilling to do so, voters should make sure he does not return as majority leader when they head to the ballot box two weeks from today.