Transgender rights campaigners gathered outside the White House on Monday in response to a leaked plan by the Trump administration to remove protection for transgender people.
Using the hashtag “won’t be erased”, the Washington protesters demanded that the government scrap proposals to narrowly define gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.
Donald Trump, the US president, said on Monday afternoon that he was considering the proposal outlined in the memo.
“We’re looking at it very seriously," he said.
Asked whether he felt he was leaving transgender people vulnerable to discrimination, he replied: "I’m protecting everybody. I want to protect our country.”
On Sunday the New York Times published a leaked copy of the memo, sparking protests in Manhattan’s Washington Square.
Under the proposals, the legal definition of sex will be changed under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programmes which receive government financial assistance.
“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the department proposed in the memo, which was drafted and has been circulating since last spring.
“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.”
The new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognise themselves — surgically or otherwise — as a gender other than the one they were born into.
It would undo Obama-era rulings which loosened the legal concept of gender, protecting people who identified as transgender in education, healthcare and other federal programmes.
Barack Obama’s policy prompted fights over bathrooms, dormitories, and single-sex programmes, and was an early target of President Donald Trump’s team.
One of the Trump administration’s first decisive policy acts was the rescission by the education and justice departments of Obama-era guidelines that protected transgender students who wanted to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, wrote a memo in October 2017 clarifying that the civil rights law that prohibits job discrimination does not cover “gender identity, per se.”
In March Mr Trump declared that transgender people could no longer serve in the military.
The administration has also tried to remove questions about gender identity from a 2020 census survey and a national survey of elderly citizens.
The department of health and human services, which produced the memo, has not commented.
In the document, the department reportedly called on the “Big Four” agencies that enforce some part of Title IX — education, justice, health and labour — to adopt its definition of gender in regulations, in the hope that it will establish uniformity in the government, and increase the likelihood that courts will accept it.
Human Rights Campaign, one of the country's leading LGBTQ rights groups, said the change would set a "destructive precedent".
Chad Griffin, chairman of Human Rights Campaign, described the alleged proposal as "the latest effort in a consistent, multi-pronged campaign by the Trump-Pence White House to undermine the rights and welfare of LGBTQ people."
He continued: "Defining 'sex' in this narrow language tailored to the talking points of anti-equality extremists is part of a deliberate strategy to eliminate federal protections for LGBTQ people.”
Harper Jean Tobin, the policy director of the National Centre for Transgender Equality, an advocacy group, called the memo “an extremely aggressive legal position that is inconsistent with dozens of federal court decisions.”
And members of the transgender community, and supporters of equal rights, voiced their outrage on social media.
Susan Sarandon, the Oscar-winning actress, tweeted: “Trans rights are human rights. I stand with you,” while transgender actress Laverne Cox rallied her 690,000 Twitter followers to campaign against the proposal.
“In the face of this affront on my existence and the existence of my community I choose love not fear,” she said. “We exist and always have.”
Chelsea Manning, who underwent gender reassignment surgery this weekend, tweeted: “Laws don’t determine our existence - *we* determine our existence.”
Chelsea Clinton said it was “outrageous and wrong to lessen protections and attempt to deny equal humanity,” while Bernie Sanders said the memo showed that “the cruelty and bigotry of this administration truly has no limit.”