Texas Department of Agriculture enforces anti-trans ‘biological gender’ dress code

Transgender and gender nonconforming people are the apparent target of a new dress code recently mandated by the head of the Texas Department of Agriculture and exposed by a genderqueer journalist this week.

Texas Observer digital editor Kit O’Connell obtained an April 13 “dress code and grooming” memo to agency employees from Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) Commissioner Sid Miller, who was an adviser to former President Donald Trump.

“Employees are expected to comply with this dress code in a manner consistent with their biological gender,” the memo states, conflating sex and gender.

While “Western apparel” is acceptable attire for women, “no excessive cleavage” can be shown and “skirts should be within four inches of the knees.”

Grooming standards include “no unnatural neon or fluorescent hair colors,” and “no nose, lip, or other facial piercings.”

Violators will be sent home to change; repeat offenders could face further sanction and termination.

“The policy, which is primarily aimed at office workers, would force trans employees back into the closet by forbidding them from expressing their identity,” O’Connell wrote. “But even cisgender people who wear gender-neutral clothing—such as women who favor men’s formalwear—could conceivably be caught up in the new restrictions.”

“The freedom to dress according to one’s gender identity is vital to the mental health and happiness of trans and nonbinary people,” they explained. “Clothing is an important part of the “social transition” process, which—along with other changes like using new pronouns—allows a trans person to be themselves in public.”

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas, toldThe Texas Tribune that the dress violates the First Amendment’s right to free expression and the equal protection clause, as well as Title VII’s prohibition of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“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,” he said. “There is no important governmental interest that this can meet.”

Explaining that TDA personnel are often seen wearing cowboy hats and boots, one department employee interviewed by O’Connell—who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation—said that “my eye was drawn to the lines about Western wear being encouraged.”

“Then, another employee alerted me and said, ‘Hey did you see the line in the first paragraph?'” the employee added, referring to the memo’s “biological gender” language.

The new TDA dress code comes amid a wave of Republican-led attacks on LGBTQ+ people at the federal and state level. The ACLU is tracking469 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in state legislatures, while laws banning gender-affirming healthcare, transgender students from competing on sports teams or using restrooms matching their gender identity, and drag shows have been passed in more than 20 states.

In Texas—which has advanced bills to ban trans student-athletes andgender-affirming care—Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered Child Protective Services to investigate parents of trans kids for child abuse, a policy blocked by multiple state courts. Abbott also staunchly opposesdiversity, equity, and inclusion policies in state agencies.

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