non binary letter 1600 scientists

Iva Kezic/Shutterstock Not Binary (Licensed) Remix by Jason Reed

1,600 scientists sign open letter against defining gender as a binary

The signees include nine Nobel laureates.


Alex Dalbey


Posted on Nov 2, 2018   Updated on May 21, 2021, 2:38 am CDT

Over 1,600 scientists have signed an open letter condemning legally defining gender as a binary, as well as condemning genetic testing to determine gender.

The letter is a response to the memo that was leaked nearly two weeks ago that revealed that the Trump administration is considering legally defining gender as binary and unchangeable, effectively erasing all transgender, non-binary, and intersex identities. Per the memo, gender would be determined at birth by genitals, and any dispute about gender would be settled with genetic testing. According to the memo, this is “clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.”

However, 1,642 scientists, including nine Nobel laureates, don’t seem to agree. In the opening paragraph of their letter, the scientists state, “This proposal is fundamentally inconsistent not only with science, but also with ethical practices, human rights, and basic dignity.” The letter goes down to break down the many ways the Trump administration memo is wrong. “The relationship between sex chromosomes, genitalia, and gender identity is complex, and not fully understood,” they write, contrary to the administration’s claim that a binary definition is clear and grounded in science. To the insinuation that genetic testing would settle any disputes about gender, they wrote, “There are no genetic tests that can unambiguously determine gender, or even sex.”

The scientists also addressed how such a policy would specifically affect intersex people, writing, that besides erasing their existence, it would lead to “more medically unnecessary and risky surgeries at birth. Such non-consensual gender assignment and surgeries result in increased health risks in adulthood.” Although infant intersex surgeries fell out of favor in the 1990s in the United States, there are no outright laws against it (though California has a law condemning it).

Besides being unscientific, the scientists argue that the proposed policy is simply unethical, as it directly violates accepted medical best practices. “Multiple standards of health care for transgender and intersex people emphasize that recognizing an individual’s self-identified gender, not their external genitalia or chromosomes, is the best practice for providing evidence-based, effective, and lifesaving care,” the scientists wrote.

The open letter concludes by requesting that the administration withdraw the proposed policy, as it would, “cause grave harm to transgender and intersex Americans and weaken the constitutional rights of all Americans.” 

H/T BuzzFeed News

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*First Published: Nov 2, 2018, 10:11 am CDT