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Huge Study Reveals Widespread, Horrifying Discrimination Faced by Trans People

"The findings reveal disturbing patterns of mistreatment and discrimination and startling disparities between transgender people in the survey and the US population when it comes to the most basic elements of life."
Photo by Alexey Kuzma via Stocksy

Today, the National Center for Transgender Equality released the largest study ever to survey the daily experiences of transgender people. Unsurprisingly, the almost 300-page US Trans Survey (USTS), a follow-up to the 2008-09 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, reveals the transgender community continues to face widespread discrimination, violence, and hardships compared to the general population.


Almost 28,000 adults who identified as transgender participated in an online, anonymous survey between August and September 2015. "The findings reveal disturbing patterns of mistreatment and discrimination and startling disparities between transgender people in the survey and the US population when it comes to the most basic elements of life," the study's authors write, "such as finding a job, having a place to live, accessing medical care, and enjoying the support of family and community."

The survey found that transgender people experience "high levels of mistreatment, harassment, and violence in every aspect of life." Nearly one in 10 were physically attacked for being transgender in the past year, while 46 percent were verbally harassed. Ten percent said they'd been sexually assaulted in the past year, and another 46 percent said they'd experienced sexual assault at some point in their lifetime.

Read more: The Trans Lawyer Fighting to Keep His Community Alive

As a result, an alarming seven percent of respondents admitted to attempting to end their own lives within the past year—nearly 12 times the rate of the US population.

Furthermore, the findings confirm that transgender people experience poverty at higher rates than the general population. "The unemployment rate among respondents (15 percent) was three times higher than the unemployment rate in the U.S. population (5 percent), with Middle Eastern, American Indian, multiracial, Latino/a, and Black respondents experiencing higher rates of unemployment," the report noted. Thirty percent of participants reported being homeless at some point in their lives, and one in five said they'd had to turn to underground economies, including sex work, for income.


Some of the respondents' stories are included throughout the report. One person wrote: "I couldn't find work. I watched one guy throw away my application literally 30 seconds after turning it in. I resorted to escorting. It's the only way to keep food in my belly and a roof over my head."

Barriers to health care and ID documentation also continue to exist for a large portion of the survey's participants. More than half said they'd been denied coverage for a transition-related surgery, and only 11 percent reported that all of their IDs had the name and gender they preferred, partly because of the cost of changing those documents.

The study's findings regarding public restroom use are particularly alarming. (The authors point out that these responses were taken before North Carolina passed a law mandating people use the facilities that match the gender on their birth certificate.) Nearly one-quarter of respondents said that they'd been challenged about their presence in a restroom; nine percent said they'd actually been denied access. Twelve percent of trans people reported being verbally or physically attacked or sexually assaulted.

The men responded by ripping my pants down. The officer shot me a disgusted look and left the room.

A respondent offered this anecdote: "I walked into a stall to do my business like I had done so many times before. This time, though, someone recognized me. He and his buddies circled around me as I tried to exit the restroom and pushed me around between them. A police officer walked into the restroom and tried to protest their harassment. The men responded by ripping my pants down. The officer shot me a disgusted look and left the room."


Because they feared being harassed in such a manner, more than half (59 percent) of respondents said they'd just avoided using public restrooms altogether in the last year, which, in some cases, resulted in a urinary tract infection, kidney infection, or another kidney-related problem. Thirty-two percent of trans people said that they limited the food or drink they consumed to avoid needing to use a public restroom at least once in the last year.

Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told Reuters: "Trans people have been in danger in the bathrooms. These numbers are just astronomically high. This is what's really happening in bathrooms."

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Matt Hirschy is the director of advancement for Equality NC, an advocacy group that's consistently called for the repeal of North Carolina's discriminatory anti-trans bathroom law, House Bill 2 (HB2). He says the NCTE's survey confirms what they've known all along: that HB2 is "deeply discriminatory and the arguments for it are patently false."

Hirschy points to the survey finding that more than half of respondents avoided using a public restroom in 2015 because they were afraid of confrontations or other problems. "This means that even before HB2 passed in North Carolina, over half of the transgender community has lived in fear of being harassed in a public restroom," he says. "Discriminatory bills like HB2 that specifically target the transgender community only increase this fear. The law is based on the idea that people need to be protected from transgender people using the bathroom not associated with their birth certificate. This creates a dangerous and hostile environment for any trans person using a public restroom and leaves them open to verbal and physical harassment."