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Tuesday 13 October 2015

The Injury of Transphobic Discrimination (Part 1)

Posted in: Comment
By Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 12th May 2014

Over the next few weeks,’s Politics and Religion section will be running a series on what content LGBT community members might want to place within their Government Administration select committee parliamentary submissions. This week, it's the US National Centre for Transgender Equality.

Certainly, there are some differences from the New Zealand situation, given the lack of a comprehensive US welfare state and public health sector, as well as the greater size of the United States and its extremes of economic inequality compared to New Zealand. However, bearing that in mind, I've decided to summarise one particular useful piece of evidence-based research about transgender experiences within that country- Injury at Every Turn (2011), a comprehensive study of transphobic discrimination carried out by the US National Centre for Transgender Equality.

Co-ordinated with the US National Lesbian and Gay Taskforce, Injury at Every Turn studied feedback from 6450 transgender and gender-nonconformist individuals across all fifty US states. Respondents stated that many of them lived in extreme poverty, with nearly one quarter of those who participated reporting an annual income of less than $US10,000. Forty one percent of the sample stated that they had attempted suicide, compared to just 1.6 percent of the total US population. Rates rose steeply for those who had experienced employment discrimination and job loss (55%), experienced school bullying (51%), were victims of transphobic violence (61%) or transphobic rape and sexual violence (64%).

Within the US education sector, the statistics are truly horrendous. Certainly, one hopes that any LGBT youth organisation who reads this will recognise the need to address these concerns within New Zealand's education sector, as well as government agencies. 78% of respondents reported schoolyard harassment, 35% reported schoolyard transphobic violence and 12% reported transphobic rape and sexual violence

Insofar as employment goes, respondents reported double the rate of unemployment relative to the US general population-while ethnic minority transpeople reported that their unemployment rate was quadruple that of the general population. 90% reported transphobic harassment, discrimination and mistreatment at work. 47% stated that they had experienced adverse employment outcomes such as being sacked, not being hired or denied promotion due to gender identity discrimination. One quarter of those sampled reported that they had been sacked due to their gender identity, while 50% reported at-work harassment. Seventy one percent were not out at work, probably unsurprisingly as a result of what other respondents experienced above.

(On the more positive side, at-work transitioning and gender identity openness at work were viewed as providing greater comfort at work and increased job performance, despite high levels of harassment for 78% of those sampled.

Sixteen percent of respondents reported that they had been forced to work in the underground "black" economy, given that sex work is still illegal in most US jurisdictions except for Nevada, as well as engaging in drug dealing. This may be an artefact of the context involved, however, given the absence of a comprehensive US welfare state infrastructure and public health provision until the recent arrival of Obamacare. However, one is uncomfortably reminded of the ongoing stigmatisation and harassment of transgender street sex workers in South Auckland. Unemployment had particularly devastating results for the transgender individuals within this study- they were nearly twice as likely to also experience homelessness, HIV exposure and 70% more likely to risk substance abuse problems than the general population, as well as 85% more likely to be incarcerated.

Given current New Zealand Opposition statements about housing affordability and access, housing discrimination and homelessness figures make particularly grim reading. Nineteen percent of respondents stated that they had experienced housing discrimination. Eleven percent stated that they had been evicted solely due to their gender identity, while nineteen percent stated that they experienced homelessness as a result. When it came to emergency accommodation, fifty five percent stated that they had experienced shelter-based harassment from staff and other residents of such facilities. 29% were denied access to emergency shelters altogether due to their gender identity, while two percent reported that they were currently homeless compared to one percent of the general US population. Half as many trans respondents owned their own homes (32%) compared to 67% of the US general population. Police harassment and interpersonal violence risk were also reported in this context.

Fifty three percent of the respondents reported difficulties with public sector interactions, in areas such as airports and government agencies, as well as buses, hotels and restaurants. Twenty two percent stated that they had experienced problems with government officials, while twenty-nine percent reported particular problems with police harassment or disrespect, and twelve percent reported judicial system mistreatment.

Paying due credit to the energy and diligence of New Zealand transgender rights activist Allyson Hamblett in our own context when it comes to the next series of concerns, only 21% reported that they were able to amend all of their relevant official documents. Fifty nine percent were able to amend their drivers licenses or state identification cards or documents to reflect their current gender identity, meaning that forty-one percent could not do so. Forty percent of those who presented "gender inconsistent" documentation reported harassment, while three percent reported being attacked or assaulted.

When it came to interaction with law enforcement officials, twenty-two percent reported difficult interactions with police, such as harassment, while forty-six percent reported "uncomfortable" interactions which discouraged further such interactions. When it came to incarceration-based violence, sixteen percent reported transphobic violence, while fifteen percent reported transphobic rape or sexual assault. This may reflect unamended corrections policies that place transgendered individuals in gender-inappropriate prison or detention facilities, which is no longer the case here due to the tireless work of Kelly Ellis and her associates at the Equal Justice Project and the successful outcome of their lobbying of Corrections Minister Anne Tolley during this parliamentary term.

When it comes to healthcare outcomes, the lamentable US history of meagre public health provision should be taken into account. Nevertheless, the figures are just as stark here. Transphobic discrimination leads to greater rates of incarceration, substance abuse, smoking, suicide and HIV exposure than the general US population. Nineteen percent reported outright denial of medical treatment due to gender identity discrimination, while half of those sampled reported having to teach their medical practitioner about gender identity concerns due to lack of professional education about these matters. The AIDS Foundation should be concerned that in this study, four times as many transgender individuals reported HIV+ status compared to the general population. Moreover, when they were sick or injured, twenty eight percent of those sampled reported that they deferred medical treatment, while forty eight percent stated that they were unable to afford it.

While forty three percent still had close family bonds, fifty seven percent reported family rejection. However, if family/whanau were inclusive, this protected the individuals in question against suicide risk and HIV+ status.

As with New Zealand's transgender community, the US transgender community is resilient, however. Despite the aforementioned healthcare discrimination above, three quarters of those sampled stated that they were able to access hormone treatment. While fewer 18-24 year old transpeople sampled were in tertiary education or vocational training, twenty two percent of sampled transgendered people aged 25-44 sampled were, compared to only seven percent of the total US population. Of the one quarter of those sampled who reported sacking, fifty eight percent reported being in current employment, while of the nineteen percent that reported housing problems, ninety four percent reported that they had found subsequent accommodation that met their needs.

Injury at Every Turn concludes with the statement that nearly two thirds of those sampled experienced particularly serious discrimination, be it unemployment, rental housing eviction, school bullying, transphobic violence, transphobic rape, homelessness, family disintegration, medical treatment discrimination or imprisonment due to gender identity discrimination. Again, it should be noted that figures were even higher in the context of ethnic minority transpeople in each context. The lives of transgender people are filled with adversity, yet courage and resistance. As with the United States, it is up to their fellow cis citizens to provide remedial legislation to eradicate the scourge of gender identity discrimination on their everyday lives, alongside leadership from the transgender rights movement.

Strongly Recommended:

Jaime Grant, Lisa Mottet and Justin Tanis: Injury at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey: Washington DC: National Center for Transgender Equality: 2011:

Data was compiled about US general population statistics from the US Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (2008), USA Suicide Official Total Data (2002)[American Association of Suicidology], Deaths: Final Statistics 2002 (National Vital Statistics Reports), National Center for Health Statistics (2004-2005) and the US Department of Labour Bureau of Labour Statistics (2008), the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (2009), UN Programme on HIV/AIDS and World Health Organisation (2007).

US general population homelessness data was compiled by the US National Coalition for the Homeless (2009): How Many Homeless?:

Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 12th May 2014

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