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Creating Change 2011: Injustice at Every Turn

February 6, 2011

I just finished attending the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual conference for activists, college students, and anyone else involved in the LGBTQA movement.  It was in lovely Minneapolis this year, and will be in Baltimore next year (if you are interested, there are scholarships and volunteering opportunities, which lower or waive the entry fee  –  check out their website for more info).  This year, I attended a variety of workshops – one about white privilege in the queer community, one about how kink, race, and class intersect (imagine a person that’s really into leather/kink – did you imagine a white gay man?  That’s a pretty common image), one about finding the moments that led to discovering my own personal sexual desire over time, one about responding to spiritual violence/bullying coming from religious sources, and one about a large survey that was done on transgender experiences of discrimination.

First, I want to address the survey. You can find the executive summary and full (250 page) report here, and a press release describing it here.  The report is called Injustice at Every Turn, and includes a sample size of about 6,500 adult transgender and gender non-conforming individuals who were already living full time in their preferred gender (or as genderqueer).  To clarify: these were people who had already transitioned.  Some had been unable to access things like hormones and surgeries for cost reasons, but were living full-time as their preferred gender.  If you know anything about surveys of trans people, you know that this is probably at least 10 times bigger than any other one that’s been done.  This is huge.  They had 900 Californians, 500 seniors, and a geographic and ethnic distribution remarkably close to that of the United State’s general population.  A caveat: It’s hard to know how representative this sample is because NO ONE KNOWS what the overall transgender/gender non-conforming population looks like. So we go with this as our best representation to date.

This study asked about discrimination experienced due to the participants’ gender expression or identity.  Some striking numbers which I will bring to the forefront include the suicide attempt rate.  For the general population, about 1.6% have attempted suicide.  Among people diagnosed with chronic depression, it’s about 20%.  Among this group of respondents it was 41%41%.  That number should be shocking to you.  The survey did not go into the ages/lifestages/causes of this high rate of suicidality, but it is a shocking number.  Some other striking numbers – 63% is the takeaway number from this survey.  63% of respondents had experienced a major life-changing discriminatory event.  The full list of events that were including is in the report and summary, but a couple examples include losing your job due to bias, being evicted due to bias, and losing a relationship with a partner/spouse or child due to bias.  These are the kinds of events that can knock anybody down, and the majority of respondents were experiencing them not due to chance or incompetence, but due to the bias ingrained in other people.  Relatedly, respondents were 4 times more likely than the general population to live in poverty at <$10,000/year, and twice as likely to be unemployed as the national rate.

One interesting, if not surprising, finding was the role that race/ethnicity played in experiences of discrimination.  White and often Asian respondents would experience discrimination at far lower rates than African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans.  In fact, there were some areas where African-Americans experienced discrimination three times as often as their white counterparts.  This really does show how even in a heavily marginalized community, there is still the presence of racism and white privilege.  The way that gender expression combines with race is fascinating to me, although heartbreaking for those affected.

One thing I came to realize at the conference is that “white” and “cisgendered” and “able-bodied” are all identities that I have to claim, acknowledge, and allow space for, in order to understand the privileges that come with them.  They are not “neutral” or “default” or “normal.”  Cognitively, I knew that already, but this conference really reinforced that when identifying myself and thinking about my layers and the way others perceive me, those are all important things to think about.

I would encourage everyone to take about 15 minutes and check out the executive summary of this report.  It’s a sobering look at an often ignored and misunderstood marginalized community, and how they are treated in ALL facets of their life – when interacting with police, healthcare providers, in education, and at the workplace.  This study is primarily correlational and very broad – in fact, they are looking for people to use the dataset and continue working it and making more and more findings about causation or how different subgroups experience discrimination, etc.  If anyone wants information on how they can be contacted, I can get it to them if it’s not on their website.  They are giving priority to researchers (dissertations, professors of gender studies, etc.), and activists who need pieces of information immediately for advocacy/social justice purposes.

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