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This Petition Asks 23andMe and Ancestry to Reject Sex Verification Through Genetic Testing

On Sunday, the New York Times revealed a Trump administration proposal to change federal policy to define gender as strictly adhering to a binary concept of biological sex. The administration’s latest effort to strip away at the legal rights of transgender people suggested that “reliable genetic evidence” be used to prove a person’s sex.

The administration did not clarify how such genetic evidence would be gathered. Alarmed, the consumer advocacy group SumOfUs launched a petition on Tuesday directed at the biggest companies offering consumer at-home genetic testing today: 23andMe, Ancestry, LabCorp, Quest Labs, and National Geographic. The petition demands that genetic testing facilities “refuse to cooperate with Trump’s policy” and “condemn Trump’s hate and ensure that this policy can never be enforced.”

As of publication time on Wednesday, the petition had over 17,000 signatures.

Typically, genetic testing is used by the medical community to screen for health risks, and sex verification is mostly used only to determine the sex of a fetus. But the administration’s proposal — delivered via a Department of Health and Human Services memo — insinuates that supplying genetic evidence would become mandatory in cases where the original sex on a person’s birth certificate does not appear to match that person’s biological sex. And government-imposed measurement for any kind of “purity” recalls the eugenics of the Nazi Party and the ugliest periods of U.S. history when the “one-drop rule” was used to segregate mixed-race people from whites and Latina and Native American women were forcibly sterilized.

“This latest attack to define gender, not as a self-determined identity, but as assigned by the federal government based off of genital presentation at birth is sickening,” said Katie Reilly, Campaign Manager for SumOfUs, in a statement on Wednesday.

“The Trump administration’s proposed testing to genetically validate gender identity is state violence,” Reilly continued, “and puts the safety of not only trans people at risk, but also those of intersex people and others who do not fit within the medically-disproven sex binary.”

Ironically, sex verification through genetic testing is a process that can be riddled with obstacles. Experts in genetics, sex verification, hormones, and intersex advocacy told INTO for a story published Wednesday that science no longer accepts that there are only two strictly binary sexes, male and female. Instead, testing can reveal a diverse range of unique characteristics that construct what we call sex: different combinations of chromosomes, hormonal variations, differences in external genitalia, and internal gonad variants.

The SumOfUs campaign asks major genetic testing companies to take a stance on whether or not they would participate in any kind of mandated sex verification.

“Trump’s plan will not work without cooperation from genetic testing facilities like Ancestry, Quest Labs, 23andMe, National Geographic, and LabCorp,” said Reilly, adding that the campaign is “demanding these testing facilities pledge to refuse to cooperate with Trump’s inhumane policy proposal.”

INTO emailed the press office at 23andMe three times over the course of as many days, asking for comment in response to the HHS memo. The company did not respond. Ancestry did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Wednesday.


Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara is Associate Editor of INTO.