Transgender Progress And The “Chilling” Challenges Of 2017 And Beyond

01/04/2017 12:08 am ET Updated Jan 04, 2017

2012 The First Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance/ Awareness Day at the White House

There is uniform consensus that President Barack Obama is the transgender rights President and under his Administration transgender people have gotten more than a “taste” of equality and positive visibility under a wide spectrum of federal law and policies and the beginning of societal respect. Compared to the past, perhaps a light year’s leap in progress! The linked article fails to mention the now open military service for TG people, which I predicted after DADT repeal, the annual White House Transgender Day of Remembrance combined with Transgender Awareness recognition. It mentions only one of the important hires of Transgender people in the Obama Administration.

On New Year’s eve 2017, the Evil empire struck back!

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Austin, Texas ordered a halt to another Obama administration effort to strengthen transgender rights, this time over health rules that social conservatives say could force doctors to violate their religious beliefs. This was not the first time that Judge O’Connor stretched the limits of Constitutional law and common sense and decency as it came four months after he blocked a higher-profile new set of transgender protections — a federal directive that required public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms consistent with their gender identity. Several of the Republican-controlled states that brought that lawsuit, including Texas, also sued over the health regulations that were finalized in May.

Civil rights groups had hailed the new health rules as groundbreaking anti-discrimination protections. But O’Connor felt that the rules could force doctors to help with gender transition contrary to their religious beliefs or medical judgment saying the rules place “substantial pressure on Plaintiffs to perform and cover transition and abortion procedures.”

The rules were set to take effect Sunday January 1.

Ezra Young, director of impact litigation for The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund criticized the injunction as contrary to existing law and said it expects the ruling to be overturned on appeal. “Judge O’Connor’s conclusion … is deeply troubling, legally specious, and morally repugnant,”.

O’Connor’s ruling also comes amid the fears of transgender people that more GOP-governed states will approve legislation limiting transgender rights and will reject proposals to expand such rights. Joining Texas in the lawsuit over the health regulations were Wisconsin, Kentucky, Nebraska and Kansas, along with the Christian Medical and Dental Association and Franciscan Alliance, an Indiana-based network of religious hospitals.

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) issued a statement in response to the injunction and explanation how it may affect transgender people.

This latest Federal injunction is a shot over the bow and a forward look at what is to come from a determined transphobic enemy amid the failure of Republican legislators in North Carolina to honor their “deal” to rescind HB2 and the movement in Texas to pass their own version of a trans bathroom bill.

And Now For The “Bad News.”

In December 2016 released the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS), by far the largest survey examining the experiences of transgender people in the United States, with 27,715 respondents from all fifty states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and U.S. military bases overseas. It serves as a follow-up to the groundbreaking 2008–09 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), which helped to shift how the public and policymakers view the lives of transgender people and the challenges they face. The 2015 USTS “provides a detailed look at the experiences of transgender people across a wide range of categories, such as education, employment, family life, health, housing, and interactions with the criminal justice system.”

“The findings reveal disturbing patterns of mistreatment and discrimination and startling disparities between transgender people in the survey and the U.S. population when it comes to the most basic elements of life, such as finding a job, having a place to live, accessing medical care, and enjoying the support of family and community. Survey respondents also experienced harassment and violence at alarmingly high rates. Several themes emerge from the thousands of data points presented in the full survey report.”

Pervasive Mistreatment And Violence.

“Respondents reported high levels of mistreatment, harassment, and violence in every aspect of life. One in ten (10%) of those who were out to their immediate family reported that a family member was violent towards them because they were transgender, and 8% were kicked out of the house because they were transgender.

The majority of respondents who were out or perceived as transgender while in school (K–12) experienced some form of mistreatment, including being verbally harassed (54%), physically attacked (24%), and sexually assaulted (13%) because they were transgender. Further, 17% experienced such severe mistreatment that they left a school as a result.

In the year prior to completing the survey, 30% of respondents who had a job reported being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing some other form of mistreatment in the workplace due to their gender identity or expression, such as being verbally harassed or physically or sexually assaulted at work.”

“In the year prior to completing the survey, 46% of respondents were verbally harassed and 9% were physically attacked because of being transgender. During that same time period, 10% of respondents were sexually assaulted, and nearly half (47%) were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.”

Severe Economic Hardship And Instability.

The findings show large economic disparities between transgender people in the survey and the U.S. population. 29% of respondents were living in poverty, compared to 14% in the U.S. population. Respondents’ 15% unemployment rate—three times higher than the unemployment rate in the U.S. population at the time of the survey (5%) is obviously the main contributor to the high rate of poverty!

Only 16% of respondents reported homeownership, compared to 63% of the U.S. population. Most concerning is that nearly one-third (30%) of respondents have experienced homelessness at some point in their lifetime, and 12% reported experiencing homelessness in the year prior to completing the survey because they were transgender.

Harmful Effects On Physical And Mental Health.

“The findings paint a troubling picture of the impact of stigma and discrimination on the health of many transgender people. A staggering 39% of respondents experienced serious psychological distress in the month prior to completing the survey, compared with only 5% of the U.S. population. Among the starkest findings is that 40% of respondents have attempted suicide in their lifetime—nearly nine times the attempted suicide rate in the U.S. population (4.6%).” The 40% is in line with the 41% reported in the 2008-9 survey.

“Respondents also encountered high levels of mistreatment when seeking health care. In the year prior to completing the survey, one-third (33%) of those who saw a health care provider had at least one negative experience related to being transgender, such as being verbally harassed or refused treatment because of their gender identity. Additionally, nearly one-quarter (23%) of respondents reported that they did not seek the health care they needed in the year prior to completing the survey due to fear of being mistreated as a transgender person, and 33% did not go to a health care provider when needed because they could not afford it.”

The Compounding Impact Of Other Forms Of Discrimination.

When respondents’ experiences are examined by race and ethnicity, a clear and disturbing pattern is revealed: transgender people of color experience deeper and broader patterns of discrimination than white respondents and the U.S. population. While respondents in the USTS sample overall were more than twice as likely as the U.S. population to be living in poverty, people of color, including Latino/a (43%), American Indian (41%), multiracial (40%), and Black (38%) respondents, were up to three times as likely as the U.S. population (14%) to be living in poverty. The unemployment rate among transgender people of color (20%) was four times higher than the U.S. unemployment rate (5%). People of color also experienced greater health disparities. While 1.4% of all respondents were living with HIV— nearly five times the rate in the U.S. population (0.3%)—the rate among Black respondents (6.7%) was substantially higher, and the rate for Black transgender women was a sobering 19%.

Read the full executive summary and the full report.

The good news is that the report indicated some of the positive impacts of growing visibility and acceptance of transgender people in the United States.

One such indication is that 27,715 transgender people completed the survey, more than four times the number of respondents in the 2008–09 NTDS. This number of transgender people who raised their voices reflects the historic growth in visibility that the transgender community has seen in recent years. “Additionally, this growing visibility has lifted up not only the voices of transgender men and women, but also people who are non-binary, which is a term that is often used to describe people whose gender identity is not exclusively male or female, including those who identify as no gender, as a gender other than male or female, or as more than one gender. With non-binary people making up over one-third of the sample, the need for advocacy that is inclusive of all identities in the transgender community is clearer than ever.”

The report suggests what many individuals have confirmed, a growing acceptance by family members, colleagues, classmates, and other people in their lives. More than half, 60% of respondents, who were out to their immediate family reported that their family was supportive. “More than two-thirds (68%) of those who were out to their coworkers reported that their coworkers were supportive. Of students who were out to their classmates, more than half (56%) reported that their classmates supported them as a transgender person.”

Overall, the report provides evidence of hardships and barriers faced by transgender people on a day-to-day basis. It portrays the challenges that transgender people must overcome and the complex systems that they are often forced to navigate in multiple areas of their lives in order to survive and thrive. Given this evidence, governmental and private institutions throughout the United States should address these disparities and ensure that transgender people are able to live fulfilling lives in an inclusive society. This includes eliminating barriers to quality, affordable health care, putting an end to discrimination in schools, the workplace, and other areas of public life, and creating systems of support at the municipal, state, and federal levels that meet the needs of transgender people and reduce the hardships they face. As the national conversation about transgender people continues to evolve, public education efforts to improve understanding and acceptance of transgender people are crucial. The rates of suicide attempts, poverty, unemployment, and violence must serve as an immediate call to action, and their reduction must be a priority. Despite policy improvements over the last several years, it is clear that there is still much work ahead to ensure that transgender people can live without fear of discrimination and violence.

What’s next? We come together, we find allies who do not divide us, we organize, we fight smart, hard and with persistence and we win.

CONVERSATIONS