December 8, 2016 at 6:43 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Largest transgender survey ever finds ‘alarming’ discrimination

transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey is the largest survey ever of trans people. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The newly unveiled results of the largest survey of transgender people ever conducted affirms the community continues to face rampant discrimination and poverty at a rate significantly higher than the rest of the U.S. population.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey examined the results of more than 27,000 survey responders from across the United States and found reported experiences of discrimination in the workplace, housing and medical care. The National Center for Transgender Equality spearheaded the effort by collecting data in August 2015, analyzing the information over the course of a year and making it public on Thursday.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a conference call Thursday said survey is “really going to help American better understand transgender people and our lives.”

“The challenges facing transgender people and the tragedies that happen every day are just unacceptable and a significant social problem,” Keisling said. “We’re seeing in the survey alarming rates of harassment and assault, we’re seeing alienation from families and communities, we’re really, in fact, seeing transgender people as individuals and as a community really struggling to get a foothold in some of the most basic parts of society.”

The result of the survey uncovered rampant discrimination and harassment against transgender people:

* 29 percent of responders say they were living in poverty, compared to 14 percent of the general U.S. population;

* 15 percent of responders say they were on unemployment, which is three times higher than the unemployment for the country at large;

* Just 11 percent of respondents said all of their IDs had the name and gender they preferred, while more than two-thirds said none of their IDs had the name and gender they wanted;

* 40 percent of responders reported attempting suicide at some point in life, which nine higher than attempted rate of suicide in the U.S. population;

* Amid controversy over transgender people should be able to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity, eight percent of responders said they contracted a urinary tract infection, kidney infection or another kidney-related problem in the past year as a result of avoiding restrooms;

* One-third of responders who saw a health care provider reported at least one negative experience related to their gender identity, such as verbal harassment or refusal of treatment;

* And nearly one-in-five responders who had contact with a medical professional about their gender identity said the professional tried to stop them from being transgender.

Sandy James, survey project manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said during the conference call the survey found pervasive discrimination against transgender people “in pretty much every facet of life, whether that be the workplace and schools or family lives.”

The survey comes five years after a 2011 transgender survey jointly published by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National LGBTQ Task Force, but the 2015 survey includes responses from more people and is more comprehensive.

Because the questionnaires are different, Keisling said she wouldn’t make an assessment on whether transgender people’s lives are getting better or worse or staying the same as result of the differences in survey data between 2011 and 2015.

“I think what I would say is it’s very clear we still have a lot of work to do in all areas of life from how people are treated by the police, to how we think about trans sex workers, the plight of undocumented immigrants and schools and homes and places of public accommodations,” Keisling said.

Keisling added the increased number of survey responders demonstrates transgender people have increased “ability to live to their lives,” but she doesn’t want to downplay “the thousands of tragedies that are happening everyday who being treated unfairly, who are being harassed and assaulted.”

One transgender advocate on the conference call who said she can relate the experiences reported by responders is Sharron Cooks, a Philadelphia-based educator who said she had to resort to sex work as a result of unemployment after she was forced to drop out of high school.

“In my experience, I know what it is like to be rejected or unsupported as well as to be supported and accepted,” Cooks said. “I want to everyone to know that there are obstacles and barriers for transgender people to overcome. The more understanding we have around these issues, the more we can help our community members be successful and lead successful lives.”

Victoria Rodriguez-Roldan, a transgender Latina and the director of the National LGBTQ Task Force’s trans/gender non-conforming justice project, said in a statement the survey results are “devastating and unfortunately not surprising.”

“As a transgender Latina, the findings that 43 percent of transgender Latinos and Latinas living in poverty, and 41 percent of transgender Latinos and Latinas reporting unemployment, hit very close to home,” Rodriguez-Roldan said. “And as a transgender advocate working every day on health policy, I know all too well the barriers transgender people experience when attempting to access basic health and human services.”

Although at one anti-trans activist — Elizabeth Hungerford, a radical feminist who advocates against protections for transgender people — threatened to take the survey to sabotage the data, Keisling said she saw no evidence anyone unduly responded to the survey or the results are inaccurate as a result.

“When you have a survey of this size, with 28,000 participants, the ability to influence it unduly has actually decreased quite a bit,” Keisling said. “Plus, there are statistical methods and algorithms that are applied to look for those things, and we’re really very confident the survey is safe and sound.”

Keisling said she hopes the survey will be used by transgender people, advocates and the media to “educate America about who we are in an accurate way that overcomes the stereotypes that have too long been laid on top of trans people.”

“The most important thing I always say that transgender people are our allies can do is tell our stories and educate our classmates, our neighbors and the people we go to synagogue and mosque with,” Keisling said. “This survey helps in a lot of ways with that. While these individuals stories are really important, this survey will help put into context the average situation for transgender people in the United States.”

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

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