Study: Discrimination Pervades Trans Lives

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com February 04 2011 3:35 PM ET

A report released Friday by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality lays bare the reality that many transgender and gender-confirming Americans already know all too well: Discrimination runs deep into every corner of their lives, but they possess remarkable powers of perseverance to overcome the obstacles.

The first large-scale national study of its kind, “Injustice at Every Turn” documents the staggering levels of discrimination, harassment, and violence faced by transgender and gender-nonconforming people in every facet of life, including employment, housing, health care, and education. The study is based on National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted from September 2008 to February 2009, which culled paper and online responses from 6,456 participants aged 18 and over in the 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“I think everybody probably knows that trans people face discrimination and harassment and violence,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of NCTE. “This is the first time we’ve ever been able to quantify that on a national level. For the first time, we really understand how bad the problem is. We’re able to quantify here some tremendous devastation.”

According to the survey, respondents were nearly four times more likely to live in extreme poverty, with household incomes of less than $10,000. Respondents were twice as likely to be unemployed, and one in four reported being fired over their gender identity or expression. Half said they had experienced harassment or other mistreatment in the workplace. One in five respondents experienced homelessness because of their gender identity or expression, and 19% said they had been refused a home or apartment. Some 19% also reported being refused health care, and 31% reported harassment or bullying by teachers.

In a reflection of the despair caused by relentless discrimination, an astonishing 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population.

“The numbers were shocking even to us, even without all the anecdotal evidence we have. Even we were surprised by this data,” said report coauthor Lisa Mottet, the Transgender Civil Rights Project director of the Task Force, in a Friday afternoon conference call during which four transgender speakers shared stories of struggle and survival.

In category after category, the study showed that transgender people of color faced even more pronounced discrimination and higher negative outcomes; for example, African-American respondents reported unemployment levels at double the other respondents’, or four times the national average.

“The data really shows the compounding effects of racism combined with antitrans bias that combines to cause devastation and life-threatening discrimination for trans people of color,” said Mottet.

Despite the extensive hurdles revealed in the study, the information also provides reasons to be optimistic, not the least of which is completing the first comprehensive picture of transgender American lives.

The data already has informed policy-making, with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development using the study to propose new housing regulations last month to protect LGBT people. And with the Employment Non-Discrimination Act still not passed, activists could also use the data to educate Congress, while galvanizing other state and local efforts and public education campaigns.

Not all the information in the new report is bleak. The survey found that family acceptance, which was more common than all the documented prejudices might suggest, exercised a protective effect against threats such as HIV infection and suicide. Moreover, 78% of those surveyed said that after transitioning, they felt more comfortable at work and their job performance improved despite harassment. And while fewer transgender respondents ages 18-24 reported being in school compared to the general population, some 22% of respondents aged 25-44 said they were in school, compared to 7% of the general population, which suggested a commitment to completing their education against the odds.

”You see these people who have faced so much and they’re still ticking,” said Keisling. “They’re still going. [In our study] we did have a place for open-ended comment. People would talk about loss of job and family abandonment and having no identification, and they kept saying they would keep going and would win.”