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Injustice at Every Turn

Injustice at Every Turn


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.

Even 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.

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