Injustice at Every Turn

By Advocate Contributors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 04 2011 12:30 PM ET

When I was a young person living in Washington, D.C., in 1995, a well-known local hairstylist was driving home one night and her car hit a tree. Paramedics rushed to the scene and cut off her clothes in an attempt to provide lifesaving medical care.

When they saw that Tyra Hunter was transgender, the medic swore at Ms. Hunter and stopped all medical treatment.

Stopped all medical treatment.

Tyra Hunter died later that night, and today, the discrimination and abuse that caused Tyra Hunter’s entirely preventable death are still firmly in place. I could not help but think of Tyra when I read the following comments that are part of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality’s just-released report, "Injustice at Every Turn."

“The fear of being the victim of a hate crime has also meant that I haven't lived completely freely; I know that if people on the street knew that I was born female, I'd be at risk of violence or harassment.”

“People are suffering in my school. There are so many trans kids that just can't come out because they are afraid.”

“I have been harassed and physically assaulted on the street. One time, I didn't go to the hospital until I went home, changed [out of feminine] clothes, and then went to the emergency room in male mode. I had a broken collarbone as a result of that attack.”

These are the words of transgender and gender-nonconforming Americans, and sadly, their experiences are not uncommon. The hunger to be visible, to share experiences of harm and resiliency is notable, as this became the largest ever study of its kind. A total of 6,500 transgender and gender-nonconforming people from all 50 states and several territories shared with us their experiences of discrimination.

The data we collected was shocking. I know firsthand, from my friends and my work at the Task Force, that discrimination remains a tragic fact of life for far too many in our community. I know that if we do not act in stereotypical “male” or “female” ways, many take this nonconformity as an open invitation to harass or act violently toward us.REA CAREY X390 (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.COMEven with all I have seen over the years, the picture coming out of our
study is deeply disturbing. Transgender individuals live in poverty at
nearly four times the national rate. They are twice as likely to be
unemployed. Over 25% reported that they had lost a job due to their
transgender identity. They are twice as likely to be homeless, four
times more likely to be HIV-positive, and perhaps most appallingly, 41%
have attempted suicide, more than 26 times the rate (1.6%) of the
general population.

These are not problems that any of us who
identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, or civil
rights-minded, progressive, or feminist can afford to ignore.

People
of color consistently experienced the greatest degree of
discrimination, especially African-Americans. They had four times the
unemployment rate of the nation, and had over 40 times the general
population rate of HIV infection.

This must stop. Let us all
make this the moment that the civil rights, progressive, feminist, and
LGBT rights movements wake up and change the way we do our work. No
longer can the needs of transgender and gender-variant people in our
society, in our organizations, and in our communities be pushed to the
side. It is literally killing people and we must work together to stop
it.

While great strides have been made for equality in the last
several decades, most recently with the powerful repeal of the “don’t
ask, don’t tell” policy, the last letter in “LGBT” has simply not seen
the same progress. Indeed, the successful repeal of DADT will still not
allow out transgender people to serve in the military.

Sadly,
even some members of the lesbian, gay and bisexual community turn our
backs on transgender people. And yet our struggle is one that is
shared. Each of us has a gender identity and gender expression. and those
of us who diverge from the norm are subject to the same discrimination.
Feminine gay men and masculine or androgynous lesbians are far more
likely to be discriminated against than gay men and lesbians whose
behavior and appearance conforms more to societal norms about how men
and women “should” act. Simply by being gay, lesbian, or bisexual, we
are breaking society’s rules about what it means to be a man or woman.

Transgender
people face this same prejudice, yet taken to the life-threatening
extreme. This is about all of us. For those who do not think so, I hope
this information will be a wake-up call and an opportunity to examine
their feelings and yes, biases, that prevent our community from uniting
in the ways we must to achieve equal treatment for all of us.

This
report is a clarion call to all of us, and its findings cannot be
ignored. We must stand against all forms of discrimination and end
injustice for all LGBT people, wherever it exists. Together, we can
eliminate this prejudice and work toward a society where we are all
truly free to be who we are. There is a role for each of us in
reckoning with the pervasive inhumanity we’ve documented in this report.

Transgender
people are discriminated against because they don’t act or look in a
way that fits with conventional ideas about gender. All men, women and
children – regardless of how they identify – are hurt by these rigid
gender codes. They suppress authentic expression throughout our society
and negatively impact relationships across gender, as family, friends,
coworkers and spouses “police” acceptable gender expression.


If
there was a ray of light in our study findings, it is in the resilience
of transgender people and their families. Contrary to popular
mythology, transgender people often maintain ties with their families of
origin and their spouses, partners and children. We found that family
acceptance had a protective affect against suicide, HIV, homelessness
and other negative consequences of discrimination for study
participants. This finding affirms what we know as advocates working on
the front lines: families are enormously burdened by the hostile
environments their transgender children, spouses and parents are living
in, but they press on.

They often strain to find a way out of no way.


Over 1,000 people came to Tyra Hunter’s funeral in DC. Her high school
shop teacher, her parents, her clients, and her big, extended family.
But no medic was ever disciplined or fired because of what happened
that night. This report is written to draw a line in the sand against
this pervasive inhumanity in our midst.


We all need to use this
opportunity to change the way we work and live to create a world that
affirms the humanity of and empowers transgender people to fully
participate in our society. We must all work strenuously and
continuously for justice.