“Injustice At Every Turn”: Report on Discrimination Against Trans & Genderqueer People Pretty Much As Bad As It Sounds

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has just released a comprehensive new report on the depth of discrimination against trans and genderqueer people. The fact that it’s titled “Injustice At Every Turn” is, unfortunately, an accurate summary of its contents. (The executive summary and full report are available online.) This is the first national large-scale study ever of discrimination against trans and gender nonconforming Americans, and while we knew the situation was dire, it turns out that “extremely” or “impossibly” dire might be closer to the truth. Some key findings:

+ Respondents were nearly four times more likely to live in extreme poverty, with household income of less than $10,000.
+ Respondents were twice as likely to be unemployed compared to the population as a whole. Half of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment or other mistreatment in the workplace, and one in four were fired because of their gender identity or expression.
+ While discrimination was pervasive for the entire sample, it was particularly pronounced for people of color. African-American transgender respondents fared far worse than all others in many areas studied.
+ Housing discrimination was also common. 19% reported being refused a home or apartment and 11% reported being evicted because of their gender identity or expression. One in five respondents experienced homelessness because of their gender identity or expression.
+ An astonishing 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to only 1.6% of the general population.
+ Discrimination in health care and poor health outcomes were frequently experienced by respondents. 19% reported being refused care due to bias against transgender or gender-nonconforming people, with this figure even higher for respondents of color. Respondents also had over four times the national average of HIV infection.
+ Harassment by law enforcement was reported by 22% of respondents and nearly half were uncomfortable seeking police assistance.
+ Despite the hardships they often face, transgender and gender non-conforming persons persevere. Over 78% reported feeling more comfortable at work and their performance improving after transitioning, despite the same levels of harassment in the workplace.

There is no way to spin these results so that they’re good, or downplaying what trans people have to put up with from cis straight and queer people every day. The only good thing one can possibly say is this: knowing how bad things are, we can swear to ourselves and each other that this is the worst they’ll ever be. Rea Carey, NGLTF Executive Director, said that “by shedding light on the discrimination that transgender Americans face, this study poses a challenge to us all.”

Proof can translate into accountability. Evidence that 1/5 of trans people have been homeless is what we need to pursue fair housing legislation. Knowing that every possible metric by which one could measure quality of life is worse for trans people of color than it is for virtually any other demographic means that we commit to ending racism, both institutionalized and individual, in our communities and in ourselves. This isn’t just a study; this is a call to action. It’s all of our responsibility to answer it. Here’s a place you can start.


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Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

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32 Comments

  1. 0

    and will the mainstream gay organizations actually listen/care/do something? imagine if we made getting trans POC off the streets #1 on our National Radical Homosexual Agenda instead of marriage/dadt/youtube campaigns/visibility of gay white kids on tv/blah
    we might actually be getting somewhere. jussayin, it has A LOT to do with allies, or lackthereof.

    • 0

      The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is one of the big ones. I think what actually drives the agenda has a lot to do with straight people and whatever they’re willing to talk about or romanticize. That creates some low hanging fruit.

      I have lots of straight friends and family that would love nothing more than to see my partner and I get married. And I mean, nothing more. I try to talk about ENDA and they’re just bored. They just want to see some weddings. They don’t get any entertainment value out of LGBT people being employed and suing employers for job discrimination.

  2. 0

    “This isn’t just a study; this is a call to action. It’s all of our responsibility to answer it.”

    just repeating for effect.

  3. 0

    Thanks for posting this! I know I usually come on here to comment about boobies and/or technology, so consider this fair warning that this is not a comment about robosexual tension.

    Anyway. I thought I might take a moment to shout out my student group, Stanford Students for Queer Liberation (queerliberation.stanford.edu). We’re currently engaged in activism and awareness building surrounding the issues of trans discrimination and ROTC.

    This report will be extremely important in the battles ahead because it lends some “science-power” to the lived experiences of queer folk that may help our causes gain traction. I also like that it focuses on people of color, as we so often fly under the radar of mainstream gay politics.

    Also, if any of youse AS kids are in the Bay Area in March, come to campus for Trans Awareness Week! It’s going to be chock full of awesome speakers, movies, and performances. More information will be posted on our website soon aka once I finish my midterms :/

  4. 0

    Thank you so much for this excellent article, Rachel. Trans* issues are super important, because trans* people are super important, and because as this study shows, there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of improving trans* folks’ qualities of life. It makes me so happy whenever Autostraddle has an article like this, especially since they’re always so well written! I feel like you folks make an extra effort to make your trans* and gender articles amazing, knowing how un-amazing so much other journalism/activism/television is. (and by television I mean entertainment, but television rhymed better *grins*)

    And thank you also for the awesome link at the end – I already have at least three submission ideas rattling around in my head 🙂

  5. 0

    Ok so I’m Canadian and I already knew about this but it’s still scary to have this re-enforced. Plus it doesn’t help that I’m only a 10 minute drive from the US (on good days).

    And thanks for the actual factual stats that I can wave in people’s faces when they’re skeptical of how hard it is to be trans.

  6. 0

    The only thing more depressing and infuriating than the dire situations faced by trans* people is the fact that so many other people either don’t care or feel like trans* people deserve those horrible things. My first instinct is to pull my hair out and scream, but I try to channel that energy toward something more productive instead. But still. ARGH!

  7. 0

    I saw this and was super super depressed. Because I’m a big social science nerd I downloaded the report.

    The sample is random, and they aren’t claiming it is representative of the population. (I have no idea how one would get a representative sample here.)

    There is also stuff in the report that is kind of cool, w/r/t what the report is calling “perseverance”:

    “• Although the survey identified major structural barriers to obtaining health care, 76% of transgender respondents have been able to receive hormone therapy, indicating a determination to endure the abuse or search out sensitive medical providers.

    • Despite high levels of harassment, bullying and violence in school, many respondents were able to obtain an education by returning to school. Although fewer 18 to 24-year- olds were currently in school compared to the general population, respondents returned to school in large numbers at later ages, with 22% of those aged 25-44 currently in school (compared to 7% of the general population).

    • Of the 26% who reported losing a job due to bias, 58% reported being currently employed and of the 19% who reported facing housing discrimination in the form of a denial of a home/apartment, 94% reported being currently housed.”

    • 0

      In case it wasn’t clear, I should clarify — I wasn’t trying to say the sample was bad or the study misleading.

    • 0

      Yes, that trans youth are able to persevere and get educations is great. Just anecdotally speaking, a disturbing number of young trans women (especially those in communities of color) were harassed out of their high schools and didn’t finish because they feared for their safety. I’m not convinced the study has adequately included this population. This is also the population which has the highest murder rate in the US.

      As a 2009 study of trans people in California by the Transgender Law Center found, trans people are twice as likely as the general population to have bachelor degrees. Despite that, the study found they were twice as likely to be living below the poverty line. So, while there is usually a correlation between education and wellbeing, even finishing college doesn’t always mean things will be okay when you’re trans.

      • 0

        I do think that it’s really, really, really important — in light of the suicide rate, and who might be visiting this site — that the picture drawn is not totally black.

        But in hindsight I can see how my comment can make the situation not look near as bad as it is, and people need to know how terribly bad it is if they’re going to be motivated to do anything about it.

    • 0

      Just wanted to say that as a trans person (who admittedly has not faced all the hurdles that many trans people do face) I’m totally okay with you bitching about how hard it is to be gay.

      Different experiences, different struggles, you know? And some of the same experiences and struggles, too.

      Definitely good to be aware of some of the extra discrimination trans people face, but it ain’t like we’re going to start claiming it’s EASY to be queer.

  8. 0

    Hi just wanted to speak up aboutNonsense. I’m a year and a half out M-F and I’ve recently been harassed by my employer to an unbelievable extent. To set the stage : I’ve been an employee at my company for three years and a half years, I’ve had nothing but glowing reviews from all of my bosses, and I routinely picked up shifts and helped out- I was even the employee of the region… then I came out to my HR rep (and no one else). Since coming out I’ve had my hours cut (by 1/3rd and the schedule was changed to put me on fri nights then an 8 hour break the 16 hours on Saturday, another 8 hour turn around and 16 more hours Sunday in an attempt to force me out.), I was instructed not to come out (“for my own comfort”), and told I would have to take a pay cut and further hour changes if I transferred. Then- with no warning or permission- they outed me while I wasn’t there to all of my colleges and left me to find out when I walked in with no support. They dragged their feet finding me a uniform, and still force me to wear a mens uniform. So I got legal advice and was told to keep my head down (so I did), and finally I spoke to the attorney general’s office- who ultimately told me they wouldn’t pursue my case because they law doesn’t recognize me as being a member of a protected group, and (even though everything was well documented in emails- and I had the letter they sent that outed me) since they didn’t fire me or use any sort of hate language, and since they had said “for my own comfort,” and since I stayed and kept my head down it couldn’t have been that hostile… unbelievable. I wish I was kidding. I’m still stuck working for the Aholes because when I came out I was thrown out of parents house. Let’s just say I haven’t made a “it gets better video.”

    • 0

      Maya, I’m so sorry. I want to first give you a gigantic hug, and then go pull out my hair a little and cry and say “GAH. This is why we need to pass ENDA NOW — with all trans rights protections.”

      In the meantime though, have you tried talking to Lambda Legal or just some random lawyer? Because one of my friends worked in a legal service of some kind in Massachusetts (where there’s still no employment protection for trans people, believe it or not) where they basically tried to get these cases handled as a general gender discrimination issue (which IS protected by law). So depending on where you live, even if there’s no explicit protection for you in the law, lawyers that know what they’re doing re: the T part of LGBT issues might be able to finagle something that works.

      I don’t know, I’m just trying to help. We love you!

    • 0

      Ugh, sorry they are running you through that rigamarole. I’ve concluded that for those of us with a non-standard gender configuration, the best way is to go into business for ourselves. But we have to pay the bills in the mean time while we are trying to get there…

      Hang in there.

  9. 0

    It’s a convenience sample : all respondents had to have access to the Internet, probably regular access to even be informed that the survey existed.

    For example, only 1/3 of the expected number of Trans people of Color were able to participate.

    As such, it almost certainly paints an overly-optimistic picture.

    None of those figures would be “shocking” or “surprising” to Trans people, except inasmuch as they give some cause for hope, that other people must have it better than they do.

    From the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs:

    “The 22 anti-LGBTQ murders reported in 2009 represent a 30% decline from the peak year, 2008, but are the second-highest annual total of such incidents reported in the U.S. over a ten-year period.

    50% of those murdered were transgender women.

    Transgender women accounted for 11% of those reporting (and 50% of all murder cases, as described in further detail later in this report). Transgender women are disproportionately targeted for hate violence relative to their percentage of the general population in the U.S. However, transgender men, along with those with Intersex conditions and people identifying as self-identified or other, genderqueer, or questioning, also accounted for 6% of reports in 2009. This shift, when paired with the over-representation of transgender women in tallies of survivors and victims, demands further research into the ways that people who transgress gender binaries are particularly vulnerable to hate violence.”

    Not just in the USA – here’s the figures for the australian state of Queensland:

    The Queensland figures are as follows:

    Received verbal abuse:
    * 69 per cent of females
    * 92 per cent transgender male to female

    Physical assault without a weapon:
    * 15 per cent of females
    * 46 per cent transgender male to female

    Physical attack with a weapon, knife, bottle or stone:
    * 6 per cent of females
    * 38 per cent transgender male to female

    • 0

      I think actually some of the respondents didn’t have access to the internet which is one of the reasons they were able to get such a (relatively, for these sorts of studies) diverse group. Not tons though, it says they handed out 2000 paper surveys and were able to include 500 in the study.

    • 0

      Thanks for posting some Australian statistics. We’re so far behind in homosexual rights, trans rights don’t even register on the radar. The fact that our Human Rights Commission can’t even investigate discrimination on the basis of diverse gender and sexuality is so ridiculous it’s almost funny, or at least it would be if it wasn’t so harmful.

  10. 0

    A question for those who have read the entire study (I’ve only seen the Executive Summary… their servers were always clogged when I’ve tried to get the whole enchilada) does the study in any way break down discrimination differences between trans men, trans women and those who ID as gender variant? In my anecdotal experience, I’ve observed trans women tend to get far more job discrimination than trans men do, but I’m interested to know what the study’s numbers say about that. I’d also like to know how the study breaks down numbers between white trans people and those from communities of color? I’ve seen some mention of that in the summary but was wondering how specific it gets?

    These seem important to me because, just as trans people usually get rendered invisible in generalized statistics about the ‘LGBTQ community’ I believe speaking generally about the trans community without focusing on the racial/gender/economic specifics within that complex community would water down some of the conclusions and where special focus needs to be applied. Like saying “there’s a high murder rate in the trans community” when what really needs to be said is: “young trans women of color are murdered at an horrifically high rate… why is it happening to that very specific group?”

    • 0

      The study breaks most every question down along racial differences and FTM, MTF, and GNC dimensions. It shows much higher levels of violence, assault, discrimination against people of color in K-12 education. And it shows high high high correlations with leaving K-12 education with later homelessness, sex work, (very) low income, high HIV infection rates, incarceration, substance abuse, suicide attempts.

      RE: employment, “For Black, Latino/a, American Indian and multiracial respondents, discrimination in the workplace was even more pervasive, sometimes resulting in up to twice or three times the rates of various negative outcomes.” And it did show greater discrimination against MTF, like in my super rough calculation looking at a few of their different measures, about 1.5 times more for MTF then FTM and GNC.

      Unfortunately they don’t have numbers in there except for percentages of different groups vs. percentage of overall sample.

      I didn’t see anything about murder in there. I don’t think that was something they looked at.

      The study is something like 230 pages long. IMHO it looks like they really put a lot of effort in showing how when things like race and trans intersect the discrimination that results is “really bad” — but clearly “really bad” doesn’t do justice the situation. And I would definitely guess that those who experience the worst discrimination are least represented in the study.

      I hope you are able to download it.

      • 0

        @itsthepleats: Thanks for your discussion of it. I did finally get it downloaded. Yup, it’s a lot to slog through, you must be very patient!

        One comment: I notice from the methodology section of the survey that African American and Latino/Latina populations are strongly, even profoundly under-represented. Some of the stats might be very skewed, especially some like “age of transition” which tends to be much younger for those populations especially among trans women, which also, in turn, impacts education stats, and employment totals.

  11. 0

    not trying to downplay anything written here, but I used to read studies like this before I transitioned and it freaked me out and made me put off transitioning. I’m now nearing 2 years post medical transition and I can honestly say I have not been discriminated against or faced any injustices for being trans. This is obviously just my experience and I have a lot of privilege unrelated to being trans (I’m white, upper middle class, educated, etc) but there are trans people like me that exist and never face discrimination.
    In contrast, before I transitioned, when I was visibly queer and gender ambiguous, the amount of discrimination and injustice and outright hatred I experienced from perfect strangers on the street, will haunt me forever.
    Now that I am viewed as gender normative and heterosexual (just based on my outward appearance) and living with male privilege, I look back on the way I was treated before and it is unbelievably depressing

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