THE BLOG

When Visibility is not Enough

02/27/2015 12:02 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

The transgender movement is more visible now than it has ever been. From the State of the Union address to the Golden Globes to an upcoming series where Laverne Cox will play an attorney, the transgender narrative is becoming a greater part of prime time television and public consciousness.

Still, the increase in visibility has not translated into increased acceptance or a reduction in violence; since the beginning of 2015 alone, eight transgender women of color have been murdered in the U.S. The 2011 Injustice at Every Turn report shows that a large number of transgender and gender nonconforming people face extreme levels of unemployment and poverty, poor health outcomes, violence and harassment. These ongoing crises underscore the critical need for comprehensive protections against discrimination.

Two new reports, "Understanding Issues Facing Transgender Americans" and "Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for Being Transgender in America", highlight the widespread discrimination and inequities that transgender people face, particularly transgender women and transgender people of color. From high rates of poverty to harassment to violence to poor health outcomes to limited job opportunities to isolation, transgender people are among the most vulnerable communities in the country.

"Paying an Unfair Price: The Financial Penalty for Being Transgender in America" paints a stark portrait of the economic insecurities that leave transgender people at high rates of unemployment and poverty. Transgender people in the U.S. face clear financial penalties simply because they are transgender and are left economically vulnerable because of two primary failures of law: Pervasive discrimination and a lack of legal protections mean that transgender people struggle to find work and safe housing, make less on the job and have higher out-of-pocket medical costs than their non-transgender peers.

Failure to adequately protect transgender students means that transgender people and their families often face hostile, unsafe, or unwelcoming school environments. Harassment, bullying, and violence make it difficult, if not impossible, for transgender students to obtain the skills and education they need to succeed.

"Understanding Issues Facing Transgender Americans" provides a high-level overview of issues facing transgender people in the U.S., including:

  • Violence: According to the 2013 Hate Violence Report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, transgender people were much more likely to experience threats, intimidation, harassment, discrimination and sexual violence. The report found that transgender women and transgender people of color are much more vulnerable to violence. In 2013, more than half of all LGBT homicide victims were transgender women of color.
  • Suicide Risk: 41 percent of respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported having attempted suicide at some point in their lives. Respondents who were bullied, harassed, assaulted, or expelled because they were transgender or gender nonconforming in school reported elevated levels of suicide attempts (51 percent).
  • Homelessness and Discrimination in Housing: One in five transgender people has experienced homelessness at some time in their lives because of discrimination or family rejection. Transgender people facing homelessness also face discrimination from agencies that should be helping them, with nearly one in three (29 percent) reporting being turned away from a shelter. One in five transgender people (19 percent) in the United States has been refused a home or apartment, and more than one in 10 (11 percent) have been evicted, because of their gender identity.
  • Health: Unequal access to healthcare and discriminatory healthcare exclusions deny transgender people coverage for medically necessary care, including hormone therapy, counseling and other transition-related care. Even when transgender people have full health insurance coverage, however, they often face discrimination by health care providers.
  • HIV/AIDS: Transgender people, and especially transgender women of color, are at high risk for HIV. One in four black transgender people in the United States is living with HIV/AIDS. Discrimination, stigma, social isolation, bias among health and social service providers, and a lack of targeted prevention efforts have all contributed to these high levels of infection.
  • Discrimination in Public Accommodations: In a 2014 study conducted in Massachusetts, 65 percent of transgender people reported experiencing discrimination in a place of public accommodation in the past 12 months. The study revealed that bathrooms in restaurants, libraries, cinemas, shopping malls, airports, and other places open to the public were locations of frequent, sometimes serious harassment and abuse of transgender people. Only 17 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of gender identity, covering 36 percent of Americans.
  • Identity Documents: Official identity documents, particularly drivers' licenses, birth certificates, social security accounts and passports that do not match with a transgender person's gender presentation can obstruct employment and travel, as well as expose transgender people to harassment, violence, refusal of service, job loss, and more.

Transgender people, especially transgender people of color, experience life-threatening situations, including violence, higher rates of HIV and AIDS, homelessness and extreme poverty. Transgender people who live under these adverse conditions are also some of the most resourceful and most resilient advocates of our communities. Organizations and initiatives led by transgender and gender nonconforming people are moving work nationally to advance the rights of TGNC people such as the Transgender People of Color Coalition, the Transgender Women of Color Collective, Transgender Law Center, the National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Trans-Latin@ Coalition. There is also a wide range of local, grassroots groups advancing TGNC rights and justice; many of these groups are listed in the Trans Justice Funding Project's recent annual report "Building TransJustice from the Ground to the Sky". As we make great strides in media and popular culture, we must also continue to win and work hand in hand with community leaders to enact many more critically needed protections and societal changes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression.