July 22, 2010 at 3:04 pm EDT | by Laura E. Lee
Health report’s trans omission draws criticism

The omission of transgender data from a D.C. Mayor’s Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Affairs health report drew harsh criticism and little explanation during a meeting last week.

Trans activists were among those to criticize the report when the D.C. City Council’s Committee on Aging & Community Affairs held a public oversight roundtable July 14 to address the issue. Also testifying against the report were people who work on local trans health issues.

“It’s sad to say that the ‘T’ is always silent,” said Brian Watson, director of programs at Transgender Health Empowerment. “There is not enough done as far as the transgender community as far as programming, as far as services, as far as data.”

The report, released June 30, reviewed behavioral, sexual and mental health findings for the District’s gay, lesbian and bisexual populations but offered no such information about the transgender population.

Watson said the general lack of data on trans health issues — a problem the report inadvertently highlighted — has created challenges in securing grant funding for programming to address the risks of needle sharing for hormone injections or combat trans-phobia in the medical community.

Ruby Corado, a transgender activist with Latinos en Accion, said a stigma surrounding trans issues remains part of the medical establishment.

“The No. 1 challenge we have, even to this point, is the access to care,” Corado said.

During the roundtable, Corado described herself as hurt and disappointed in Christopher Dyer, director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs.

“He has robbed us — the transgender community — of an opportunity for us to go to funders, to foundations, to different places that will allocate money and say, ‘Hey, listen, the government is saying we have needs. The government is acknowledging that we have challenges,’” she said.

Dyer, in turn, said there were limitations associated with the data used to create the report. He noted that the data came from the 2005 and 2007 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys, which failed to ask questions regarding gender identity.

Created by staff from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and other agencies, the surveys are intended for national distribution and contain a standard set of questions. States are allowed to work with the CDC to add other questions.

Council member Yvette Alexander, who chaired the July 14 committee meeting, at one point asked Dyer why he didn’t work with local trans activists to create the report.

“I don’t know,” he said.

For its lack of trans data, Alexander described the report as incomplete and inaccurate. When she pressed Dyer on what action the office would take to improve its data collection, he said it would work with the D.C. Trans Coalition and other organizations to improve transgender inclusion in the future.

Rhodes Perry of the D.C. Trans Coalition recommended at the meeting that a comprehensive needs assessment be created to serve as a national model for transgender data collection.

He also advocated for the improvement of existing data collection methods by including questions that will capture gender identity.

“Moving forward, we kindly request a commitment on behalf of the Office of GLBT Affairs to authentically improve and include trans-specific research in all future studies,” Perry said.

Sophie Druet, an intern for the D.C. Center, said such research is especially important because among the “very little information available” on trans health issues, it’s clear that “transgender populations generally endure higher levels of discrimination, affecting both their mental and physical health.”

Citing data from the Washington Transgender Needs Assessment Survey, Druet said higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation exist in the trans community. That assessment, conducted between 1998 and 2000, was funded by the District’s Health Department. No comprehensive governmental study of local trans community needs has been completed since the assessment.

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