Discrimination and destitution defines this vulnerable community.
On Thursday, the National Center for Transgender Equality revealed the results of the most massive survey of transgender people ever conducted. The picture is not rosy, with transgender people suffering rampant rates of discrimination. A community bracing for increased persecution under a Donald Trump administration has already been struggling severely to access the basic necessities of life.
The U.S. Trans Survey, conducted in September 2015, is a follow-up to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), published in 2011 based on results collected in 2008–09. An unprecedented 27,715 transgender people took the new survey, four times how many participated in the NTDS. (A recent study suggests there are about 1.4 million transgender people living in the United States.) The thorough survey covered multiple facets of life, with carefully constructed questions that allow the results to be compared with national averages.
Overall, transgender people suffer — as the NTDS was subtitled — injustice at every turn in every conceivable way, starting with their families.
One in ten trans people who were out to their immediate families reported that a family member was violent toward them because of their gender identity. Additionally, 8 percent reported being kicked out of their homes for being transgender, while 10 percent reported running away from home — a third before the age of 15. In general, 18 percent said their family was unsupportive, and another 22 percent said their family was neither supportive nor unsupportive.
Conversely, those who said their families were supportive were far less likely to experience homelessness, to have attempted suicide, or to currently be experiencing severe stress in their lives.
From there, the world was also quite harsh.
The survey asked about what people experienced if they were out or perceived as transgender in grades K-12:
- 77 percent experienced some form of mistreatment during their school years.
- 54 percent were verbally harassed.
- 24 percent were physically attacked.
- 13 percent were sexually assaulted.
- 17 percent left school to avoid the kind of severe mistreatment they were experiencing for being transgender.
Maintaining safe employment is incredible difficult for transgender people:
- 16 percent of respondents who had ever had a job reported losing that job because of their gender identity or expression.
- 27 percent of those who applied for a job in the past year reported being fired, denied a promotion, or not being hired because of their gender identity or expression.
- 15 percent of those who had a job in the past year were verbally harassed, physically assaulted, or sexually assaulted at work because of their gender identity or expression.
- 77 percent reported taking steps to avoid mistreatment at work, including hiding their identity, delaying their transition, or simply quitting their job.
- Transgender people were three times more likely (15 percent) to be unemployed than the U.S. population (5 percent).
- Transgender people were twice as likely (29 percent) to be living in poverty than the U.S. population (14 percent).
- 20 percent of trans people have participated in the underground economy, including 12 percent who have done sex work for income.
Simply finding a safe place to sleep at night is a significant hurdle for transgender people:
- 23 percent of respondents experienced housing discrimination in the past year, such as being evicted or denied a home or apartment for being transgender.
- 30 percent of trans people have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.
- 12 percent of trans people experienced homelessness in the past year.
- 70 percent of trans people who stayed in a shelter reported being harassed, sexually or physically assaulted, or kicked out for being transgender.
- Transgender people are four times less likely to own a home (16 percent) than the U.S. population (63 percent).
Just going about their daily lives, trans people are subjected to abuse:
- 46 percent of trans people experienced verbal harassment in the past year.
- 9 percent of trans people experienced a physical attack in the past year.
- 10 percent of trans people were sexually assaulted in the past year.
- Nearly half (47 percent) of trans people report being sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. This number was far higher for those who have done sex work (72 percent), experienced homelessness (65 percent), or who have a disability (61 percent).
- 58 percent of trans people who interacted with police experienced some form of mistreatment. Unsurprisingly, 57 percent feel uncomfortable asking police for help if they need it.
- 22 percent of those who were arrested in the past year believe it was simply because they are transgender. Many are assumed to be sex workers.
Basic recognition of identity
Simply securing legal recognition is a challenge for many transgender people:
- Only 11 percent of respondents reported that all of their forms of identification included their preferred name and gender.
- 68 percent reported that none of their forms of ID reflected their preferred name or gender.
- The reason is cost. 35 percent have not changed their legal name and 32 percent have not updated their gender because they simply can’t afford it.
- A third of respondents (32 percent) have experienced verbal harassment or been denied service because their ID did not match their presentation.
Public accommodations and bathrooms
Accessing basic goods and services is also a major hurdle for transgender people:
- 31 percent of trans people experienced mistreatment in the past year at a place of public accommodation (stores, hotels, etc.), including being denied equal service (14 percent), verbal harassment (24 percent), or physical attack (2 percent).
- 20 percent avoided at least one type of public accommodation because they feared mistreatment.
- 9 percent of respondents were denied access to a restroom in the past year.
- Restrooms were often unsafe, with 12 percent experiencing verbal harassment, 1 percent experience physical attacks, and 1 percent experience sexual assault when accessing a restroom.
- 59 percent avoiding a public restroom in the last year out of fear of confrontations, with 32 percent actually limiting what they ate or drank to avoid the restroom.
- 8 percent reported a urinary tract infection, kidney infection, or other kidney-related problem in the past year as a result of avoiding the restrooms.
Health and wellness
- 39 percent experience serious psychological distress in the month before they took the survey — nearly eight times the national rate (5 percent).
- 40 percent have attempted suicide at some point in their lifetime — nearly nine times the national rate (4.6 percent).
- 7 percent attempt suicide in the past year — nearly 12 times the national rate (0.6 percent).
- 33 percent of those who saw a health care provider in the past year experienced at least one negative experience because they were transgender, including being refused treatment, verbally harassed, or physically or sexually assaulted.
- 23 percent avoided seeing a doctor when they needed one because of fear of mistreatment.
- 33 percent did not see a doctor when they needed one because they could not afford it.
- 1.4 percent of trans people reported living with HIV — five times the national rate (0.3 percent).
Compounding impact of discrimination
Trans people were far more likely to experience discrimination if they also had an intersecting identity.
- Non-white transgender people were far more likely to be living in poverty, including 43 percent who were Latinx, 41 percent who were American Indian, 40 percent who were multiracial, and 38 percent who were black.
- 20 percent of non-white transgender people were unemployed, four times the national rate.
- A staggering 19 percent of black trans women were HIV positive.
- Undocumented transgender people were more likely to have been physically attacked (24 percent), to have experienced homelessness in their lifetime (50 percent), or to have faced intimate partner violence (68 percent).
- Transgender people with disabilities were more likely to be unemployed (24 percent) or living in poverty (45 percent).
Despite these bleak findings about current transgender life, the survey is not without good news. The report notes that the sheer number of trans people who came forward to take the survey reflects the increasing visibility that the transgender community has experienced, including those who identity outside the gender binary.
The study also suggests that acceptance is growing, with respondents actually highlighting many family members, classmates, and coworkers who were supportive of their identity.
Moreover, the study is a trove of information about the transgender community and its diversity of experiences. As happened with the NTDS, there will likely be countless follow-up analyses of the data compiled that will serve transgender advocacy for years to come.
In the meantime, the U.S. Trans Survey provides an alarming glimpse at what transgender people currently experience. It’s invaluable information in the current political climate. The Trump administration has promised to roll back many of the protections President Obama put in place for the transgender community, and several states are gearing up to consider anti-transgender legislation, following North Carolina’s lead with HB2.
The survey will be a vital tool for highlighting the consequences of these injustices and resisting efforts to subject transgender people to even more persecution and violence.