August 4, 2015 at 1:05 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
New survey seeks updated data on trans experience
National Center for Transgender Equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality Mara Keisling (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Amid increased transgender visibility and pro-trans policy changes at the federal level, a leading transgender advocacy group is seeking to recreate an influential survey to monitor developments in the trans experience.

Four years ago, the questionnaire — titled “Injustice at Every Turn” and jointly organized by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force — was the most extensive survey ever taken of the transgender community and found widespread anti-trans discrimination.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said her organization is renewing the survey to obtain updated data years later.

“The survey data is used by all activists, almost all journalists, so we wanted everybody to have the most up-to-date data,” Keisling said.

According to NCTE, as of Friday, a total of 12,000 people have committed online to taking the survey — almost double the 6,400 who took the 2011 survey. Keisling said she doesn’t have a goal in mind for the new survey other than an increased number of respondents and outreach to populations such as seniors and people of color. Transgender people can register here to take the survey, which will be online Aug. 19.

“Honestly, we want to see if things are improving,” Keisling said. “It’s been five years. There seems to have been a lot of cultural and policy movement, and we want to see if that’s impacting people’s lives.”

Among the findings of the survey in 2011: Transgender people faced double the rate of unemployment, nine-in-10 say they experienced harassment or discrimination on the job and 19 percent said they were refused housing because of their gender identity.

Many of the questions in the new survey would be the same, but others will be added for more complete data on the trans experience. For example, one question on the 2011 survey found 41 percent of respondents reported attempting suicide and another found one-fifth experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. The updated survey will include follow-up questions on whether these incidents of suicide and homelessness occurred in the past year for more accurate data.

Another new change is redirecting those who complete the survey, which will be anonymous, to a form allowing them share personal stories of anti-trans discrimination. The intent is to add the sense of personal experience for potential use in advocacy work at a later time.

Keisling said the personal story option portion of the survey will add to efforts for advocacy on transgender rights not just on Capitol Hill, but in state capitols and media situations.

“Everybody can opt out of that if they want, but it’s just really important for advocacy to be able to tell real people stories and to be able to find individuals who can come forward and tell their own stories,” Keisling said.

In 2011, the transgender survey was a co-project of NCTE and what is now the National LGBTQ Task Force. This time around, the Task Force has stepped aside to keep the project within NCTE.

Rea Carey, executive director of the Task Force, said in a statement to the Blade her organization is excited about the survey and supporting the launch, but opted to leave it to NCTE.

“Together, the National LGBTQ Task Force and NCTE agreed that NCTE would be the sole producer of the report this year and we look forward to seeing the results,” Carey said. “Like our work together on Injustice at Every Turn, NCTE, the National LGBTQ Task Force, and our movement will be able to use the data to continue to make the case for increased attention to the needs of all transgender people.”

Also contributing to the research team for the survey is Jody Herman, scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute, University of California, Los Angeles. As a consultant to the project, she’s working on survey question design to ensure it’s on par with federal surveys and will help with analysis once data is gathered.

“We’re going to design a public use data set so the data can be made available to other organizations or researchers, academics, so they conduct their own research with the data set, so I’m hoping it’ll fuel another wave of research about transgender people,” Herman said.

One reason for renewing the survey is the lack of information on transgender people in the American population at the federal level. Although the Department of Health & Human Services has included sexual orientation questions in health surveys, questions about gender identity have not been included.

Keisling said most information about groups of people in the United States comes from federal government initiatives, which she called “the gold standard for data,” but she said information is lacking for LGBT people.

“One of the most disappointing things about the federal government currently, and there has been so much progress on LGBT issues in the Obama administration…but still we do not have the federal government data for trans people, or even gay, bi people, or just queer people in general,” Keisling said. “We just don’t have them studying us as they should be yet. We’re going to keep pushing for that, but until then, we’re going to have to be collecting our own data.”

It seems unlikely a transgender-related question will be added to the questionnaire the U.S. Census Bureau distributes every 10 years and anticipated in 2020 because that survey will be reduced to a short form. Instead, transgender advocates are pushing for inclusion in the American Community Survey, the annual survey with more extensive questions.

Keisling said there are dozens of other surveys to which LGBT questions could be added, including many conducted by the Department of Health & Human Services. The best way to look at the issue, Keisling said, is through agencies. Just last week, she said she had a meeting with the Bureau of Justice Statistics within the Justice Department.

“There’s the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there’s the National Center for Health Statistics, there are just so many, and there’s just a very small few now that are beginning to count LGBT people,” Keisling said.

Jamal Brown, a spokesperson for the White House Office of Management & Budget, responded by saying policymakers for years have collected data on LGBT populations, but acknowledged more work remains.

“LGBT people are not uniform, with experiences shaped by a diversity of factors including age, race, gender, socioeconomic background, education, and disability,” the spokesperson said. “And without improved data, there’s no way to adequately describe these differences and what they mean for LGBT Americans.”

But Brown said an interagency review is underway to evaluate federal data gathering for LGBT people and “develop recommendations that will inform federal statistics in the future.” The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs held its first interagency meeting on the issue April 9.

Once the data from the latest transgender survey is obtained, Keisling said she expects it to show where anti-trans discrimination exists and that it will help lead the way to fixing it.

“But we’re also going to disseminate the information to the state LGBT groups, to local HIV service organizations, the federal government probably will use the survey in different ways and the media, which has become such an important public education around trans issues, will be no doubt using the survey,” Keisling said.

Keisling said much like the 2011 questionnaire, she predicts the survey will reveal the problems facing transgender people are compounded when they’re part of racial minority groups because of persistent racism.

For example, the 2011 survey found black transgender people live in a significantly higher rate of poverty. Thirty-four percent reported a household income of less than $10,000 a year. That’s more than twice the rate for transgender people of all races (15 percent), four times the general black population rate (9 percent) and more than eight times the general U.S. population rate (4 percent).

But Keisling said the data from the updated survey will “absolutely” be a tool to help ameliorate those compounded problems going forward.

“When you’re trying to move forward, it’s important to understand where you are and which moves forward are the most urgently needed, and this survey will really help with that,” Keisling said.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Hp440lisa

    I witnessed research tampering in the last survey and its really biased and junk science. The use of word “transgender” is based in sexual exploitation and sex discrimination. Its really tailored towards only those who want to be part of the “Gay community” and it is not an accurate reflection of what it means to fit the definition of being Transsexual. Its time to call an end to the Transgender BS!!!!

  • Deanna B.

    Yes, we should always rely on non-peer reviewed studies conducted by political organizations. It is just as reliable as the “research” that comes out of the Family Research Council.

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