In the summer of 2015 the National Center for Transgender Inequality initiated the largest survey of transgender people ever conducted: The U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS). There were 27,715 participants, including yours truly, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and American military bases overseas. The survey was anonymous and conducted online. Participants were required to be 18 years of age or older.
The report of 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 USTS revealed the prevalence of mistreatment, harassment and violence in all aspects of life. One in ten of those who came out to their immediate family reported at least on family member was violent toward them. Eight percent were kicked out of the house.
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 red, 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.
This puts the lie to the right wing talking point that legal protections for transgender people against discrimination are not necessary because the discrimination is so rare.
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.
Somehow quite a few of us manage to muddle through and establish an livable existence. But we rarely live well.
The findings show large economic disparities between transgender people in the survey and the U.S. population. Nearly one-third (29%) of respondents were living in poverty, compared to 14% in the U.S. population. A major contributor to the high rate of poverty is likely respondents’ 15% unemployment rate—three times higher than the unemployment rate in the U.S. population at the time of the survey (5%).
Respondents were also far less likely to own a home, with only 16% of respondents reporting homeownership, compared to 63% of the U.S. population. Even more concerning, 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.
And how does that affect us psychologically and physically?
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%).
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.
When one goes deeper into the data:
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 staggering 19%.
Undocumented respondents were also more likely to face severe economic hardship and violence than other respondents. In the year prior to completing the survey, nearly one- quarter (24%) of undocumented respondents were physically attacked. Additionally, one- half (50%) of undocumented respondents have experienced homelessness in their lifetime, and 68% have faced intimate partner violence.
Respondents with disabilities also faced higher rates of economic instability and mistreatment. Nearly one-quarter (24%) were unemployed, and 45% were living in poverty. Transgender people with disabilities were more likely to be currently experiencing serious psychological distress (59%) and more likely to have attempted suicide in their lifetime (54%). They also reported higher rates of mistreatment by health care providers (42%).
One such indication is that an unprecedented number—nearly 28,000—of transgender people completed the survey, more than four times the number of respondents in the 2008–09 NTDS. This number of transgender people who elevated 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.
Respondents’ experiences also suggest 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 of them as a transgender person. 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 ful lling lives in an inclusive society. This includes eliminating barriers to quality, a ordable 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 e orts 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.
Trump has, of course, been filling his cabinet with anti-LGBT people...so nobody is expecting improvement in the near future.
Really every minute we spend talking about [bathrooms], we’re not talking about the problems in real people’s lives. We’re not talking about the economic marginalization … We’re not talking about people being alienated from their faith communities and from their families.
Undeniably our policy agenda has advanced at rocket speed in recent year. The findings of this survey make it really crystal clear that there’s more work to do.
We will move into the next administration just as assertively, just as smartly and one of the tools we’re bringing with us is this survey data. Friend or foe, people are going to hear from us about this.
--Mara Keisling, NCTE
I know what it is like to be rejected and unsupported. With data about transgender people, we can reduce their harm and their risk to violence. We can educate their families and school system so they are better accepted. And that ultimately helps shape an individual’s identity and gives them a sense of self-worth.
--Sharron Cooks, Philadelphia
Up until now, many people across the United States have not been aware of trans people and the issues that trans people face. Trans people are their neighbors, they attend their schools and they are in the grocery store with them. Transgender people are part of the very fabric of the United States. Trans people are everywhere.
--Sandy James, lead author