As Black trans-women in particular are disproportionate targets of violence and murder, we are printing this summary of the most recent survey of the conditions facing transgender people in the US.–Ed.
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS)
The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS) is the largest survey examining the experiences of transgender people in the US, with 27,715 respondents from all 50 states, DC, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and U.S. military bases overseas.
Conducted in the summer of 2015 by the National Center for Transgender Equality, the USTS was an anonymous, online survey for transgender adults (18 and older) in the US, available in English and Spanish. The USTS serves as a follow-up to the groundbreaking 2008–09 National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), which helped to shift how the public and policymakers view the lives of transgender people and the challenges they face.
The report of the 2015 USTS provides a detailed look at the experiences of transgender people across a wide range of categories, such as education, employment, family life, health, housing, and interactions with the criminal justice system. The findings reveal disturbing patterns of mistreatment and discrimination and startling disparities between transgender people in the survey and the U.S. population when it comes to the most basic elements of life, such as finding a job, having a place to live, accessing medical care, and enjoying the support of family and community.
Survey respondents also experienced harassment and violence at alarmingly high rates. Several themes emerge from the thousands of data points presented in the full survey report.
Pervasive Mistreatment and Violence
Respondents reported high levels of mistreatment, harassment, and violence in every aspect of life. 10% of those who were out to their immediate family reported that a family member was violent towards them because they were transgender, and 8% were kicked out of the house because they were transgender. The majority of respondents who were out or perceived as transgender while in K–12 experienced some form of mistreatment, including being verbally harassed (54%), physically attacked (24%), and sexually assaulted (13%) because they were transgender. Further, 17% experienced such severe mistreatment that they left a school as a result. In the year prior to completing the survey, 30% of respondents who had a job reported being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing some other form of mistreatment in the workplace due to their gender identity or expression, such as being verbally harassed or physically or sexually assaulted at work.
In the year prior to the survey, 46% of respondents were verbally harassed and 9% were physically attacked because of being transgender. During that same time period, 10% of respondents were sexually assaulted, and nearly half (47%) were sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime.
Severe Economic Hardship and Instability
The findings show large economic disparities between transgender people in the survey and the U.S. population. Nearly one-third (29%) of respondents were living in poverty, compared to 14% in the U.S. population. A major contributor to the high rate of poverty is likely respondents’ 15% unemployment rate—three times higher than the unemployment rate in the U.S. population at the time of the survey (5%).
Respondents were also far less likely to own a home, with only 16% of respondents reporting home-ownership, compared to 63% of the U.S. population. 30% of respondents have experienced homelessness at some point in their lifetime, and 12% reported experiencing homelessness in the year prior to completing the survey because they were transgender.
Harmful Effects on Physical and Mental Health
The findings paint a troubling picture of the impact of stigma and discrimination on the health of many transgender people. A staggering 39% of respondents experienced serious psychological distress in the month prior to completing the survey, compared with only 5% of the U.S. population. Among the starkest findings is that 40% of respondents have attempted suicide in their lifetime—nearly nine times the attempted suicide rate in the U.S. population (4.6%).
Respondents also encountered high levels of mistreatment when seeking health care. In the year prior to completing the survey, 33% of those who saw a health care provider had at least one negative experience related to being transgender, such as being verbally harassed or refused treatment because of their gender identity. Additionally, nearly one-quarter (23%) of respondents reported that they did not seek the health care they needed in the year prior to completing the survey due to fear of being mistreated as a transgender person, and 33% did not go to a health care provider when needed because they could not afford it
Compounding Impact of Other Forms of Discrimination
When respondents’ experiences are examined by race and ethnicity, a clear and disturbing pattern is revealed: transgender people of color experience deeper and broader patterns of discrimination than white respondents and the U.S. population. While respondents in the USTS sample overall were more than twice as likely as the U.S. population to be living in poverty, people of color, including Latino/a (43%), American Indian (41%), multiracial (40%), and Black (38%) respondents, were up to three times as likely as the U.S. population (14%) to be living in poverty. The unemployment rate among transgender people of color (20%) was four times higher than the U.S. unemployment rate (5%).
People of color also experienced greater health disparities. While 1.4% of all respondents were living with HIV—nearly five times the rate in the U.S. population (0.3%)—the rate among Black respondents (6.7%) was substantially higher, and the rate for Black transgender women was a staggering 19%.
Undocumented respondents were also more likely to face severe economic hardship and violence than other respondents. In the year prior to completing the survey, nearly one-quarter (24%) of undocumented respondents were physically attacked. Additionally, one-half (50%) of undocumented respondents have experienced homelessness in their lifetime, and 68% have faced intimate partner violence.
Respondents with disabilities also faced higher rates of economic instability and mistreatment. Nearly one-quarter (24%) were unemployed, and 45% were living in poverty. Transgender people with disabilities were more likely to be currently experiencing serious psychological distress (59%) and more likely to have attempted suicide in their lifetime (54%). They also reported higher rates of mistreatment by health care providers (42%).
Increased Visibility and Growing Acceptance
Despite the undeniable hardships faced by transgender people, respondents’ experiences also show some of the positive impacts of growing visibility and acceptance of transgender people in the US. One such indication is that an unprecedented number of transgender people—nearly 28,000—completed the survey, more than four times the number of respondents in the 2008–09 NTDS. This number of transgender people who elevated their voices reflects the historic growth in visibility that the transgender community has seen in recent years.
Additionally, this growing visibility has lifted up not only the voices of transgender men and women, but also people who are non-binary, which is a term that is often used to describe people whose gender identity is not exclusively male or female, including those who identify as no gender, as a gender other than male or female, or as more than one gender. With non-binary people making up over one-third of the sample, the need for advocacy that is inclusive of all identities in the transgender community is clearer than ever.
Respondents’ experiences also suggest growing acceptance by family members, colleagues, classmates, and other people in their lives. More than half (60%) of respondents who were out to their immediate family reported that their family was supportive of them as a transgender person. More than two-thirds (68%) of those who were out to their coworkers reported that their coworkers were supportive. Of students who were out to their classmates, more than half (56%) reported that their classmates supported them as a transgender person.
Recent LA Times coverage of judicial discrimination against transgender people seeking to match name and ID to their gender identity: httpss://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-transgender-court-hearings-20171110-story.html
Facebook groups for parents of transgender kids: httpss://www.facebook.com/groups/ParentsofTransgenderChildren/ httpss://www.facebook.com/groups/ProudParentsTrans/ httpss://www.facebook.com/Parents-of-Transgender-Kids-PTK-102798079808117/
Transgender children’s book: httpss://www.pinknews.co.uk/2019/02/17/trans-kids-book-julian-is-a-mermaid-awards/