The head of the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) has issued a memorandum telling all employees to dress “in a manner consistent with their biological gender.” The revised dress code would not only force transgender people to present in a way that feels inauthentic, it could also be used to punish cisgender people who wear gender-neutral clothing.
The memo, which experts say violates federal free speech and non-discrimination protections, is just the latest move by Texas Republicans to erase trans identities from the state.
The April 13 memorandum, signed by Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller (R), was entitled “Texas Department of Agriculture Dress Code and Grooming Policy.”
Miller’s two-page memo said that in order to “reflect the culture, dignity, and professionalism of the TDA… All employees are expected to comply with this dress code in a manner consistent with their biological gender.” The memo effectively revises the department’s former dress code, which didn’t mention “biological gender,” The Texas Observer noted.
The new dress code requires employees to wear “traditional business wear, including Western business attire.” This includes button-down shirts for men and skirts or pants for women. The code applies to all work settings that don’t require uniforms or protective gear for agricultural fieldwork.
“Any staff member who does not meet the attire or grooming standards set by the TDA will be subject to corrective action and may be asked to leave the premises to change their clothing,” the memo adds. The newly revised and somewhat vague policy could easily apply to men who wear earrings or women who wear button-down shirts instead of blouses.
Miller is a supporter of former President Donald Trump and has said he’s “thrilled” by Trump’s ban on trans military members, calling trans identity “leftist social experimentation.”
While his memo mentions “biological gender” — likely meaning one’s sexual anatomy assigned as either “male” or “female” at birth — the actual term is not based on science.
The term “gender” refers to a person’s self-representation, according to the Yale School of Medicine. As such, gender is socially created, not biologically created. Also, because humans and other animals can change their gender or sexual anatomy, trans and nonbinary people are indeed part of the “biological gender” spectrum.
Neither the TDA nor the office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) responded to the Observer‘s request for comment, leaving it unclear where the new dress code originated and how the TDA plans on enforcing it.
One TDA employee who spoke to the Observer said that they joined the department because of its diversity. The employee worried that the revised dress code would be “selectively enforced against people who are most visibly trans or gender nonconforming or… who otherwise stand out within the organization.” Other employees refused to speak out for fear of repercussions.
Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told The Texas Tribune that the revised dress code violates the First Amendment’s right to free expression and also Title VII, the federal law that forbids employment discrimination based on sex. In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers cannot discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity because it’s impossible to discriminate based on LGBTQ+ identities without taking sex into account.
“State agencies should be focused on doing their jobs and not discriminating against their own employees and trying to make political statements through their agency regulations,” Klosterboer told the Tribune. “There is no important governmental interest that this can meet.”
This term, state GOP legislators introduced numerous bills seeking to ban trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care. All of the bills died in the legislature.
In February 2022, Abbott ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate for child abuse any parents who allow their trans children to access gender-affirming medical care prescribed by their doctors. His order was blocked by the courts.
Gender-affirming care, including dressing and presenting in line with one’s own gender identity, are deemed as safe and essential to the well-being of trans people, according to the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and other major healthcare groups.