With almost 28,000 respondents, the recently released 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey is the largest survey ever of transgender people in the United States. Reading through the USTS report, many of the findings hit home for me. The USTS data is comprehensive and rich, and each of the data points is a story. Mine is one of them, and I hope that by sharing it, I can put a face to the experiences that transgender people have and are highlighted in the USTS.
I am an African-American woman who is transgender. I am originally from New Jersey and now live in Philadelphia, where I am the owner and CEO of Making Our Lives Easier LLC, which is a community-based consulting firm that provides quality resources and information to underrepresented populations, particularly to transgender women of color. I have positive working relationships with a network of community members and leaders, activists, and government officials regarding social justice issues, such as trans inclusion, racial diversity, and the economic empowerment of LGBTQ people of color.
The path to my own firm started when I worked toward my BA in philosophy, with a focus on ethics, from Arcadia University, but my education took some time. When I was younger, I experienced family rejection. I think this was mostly from a lack of understanding of what it means to have a transgender family member. Not being emotionally supported made me fee isolated and misunderstood. Ultimately, I left high school early due to discrimination from the school administration, which delayed my education for almost a decade.
Leaving high school early and being an African-American trans woman made finding stable employment more difficult. And this isn't an unusual story. The unemployment rate among USTS respondents was three times higher than among the general population, and as I've seen in my own communities and as the USTS shows, trans people of color experience even deeper and broader patterns of discrimination, including in the workplace. I was fired from a department store after standing up for myself against coworkers who mocked, harassed, and even threatened to shoot me. After this and several other unsuccessful attempts at traditional employment, I turned to sex work as a way to support myself. While sex work provided an income, it came with physical and emotional hardships that were difficult to endure.
Ultimately, I founded my own business in part because of my difficulties finding stable employment, particularly jobs outside of sex work, and because I want to show other trans people -- particularly those of color -- that there are other options available to them.
Now that I'm older, I am fortunate and blessed to have the support and acceptance of my family. Once my mom said she would never buy me girls' clothes, and now we go shopping together. Our journey has helped me learn more about myself and helped fuel my passion for community service. I know the importance of supporting those whose families may not be in a place of understanding. I want to let people know that it may take time to get the family support that you need, so don't give up. It's heartening to know that more than half of USTS respondents who were out to their immediate family said that their family was supportive of them as a transgender person.
I know what it is like to be rejected and unsupported as well as to be supported and accepted. I want everyone to know that there are obstacles and barriers for transgender people to overcome, and the more understanding there is of these issues, the more members of our community can lead successful and fulfilling lives. I'm so appreciative of the existence of the U.S. Transgender Survey as a tool for building understanding and support among the families, neighbors, and coworkers of transgender people.
SHARRON COOKS is the chief executive officer and consultant at Making Our Lives Easier LLC. Follow her on Twitter @MsSCooks.