Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Injustice At Every Turn: Study of Trans Discrimination

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | February 07, 2011 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality teamed up to do a comprehensive study of discrimination against trans people.

Cathy Renna featured the story of one person involved in the study last week on Bilerico.

There has never been such a comprehensive study of trans people and their lives anywhere in the world. There were 6,450 study participants who answered a 70-question survey, available in both online and paper formats. This included a diverse set of people, from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, of different ages, races, ethnicities, trans identities, and income levels, among other things. It included employment, housing, public accommodations, bullying and violence, and many other areas of discrimination.

That life as a trans person can be very, very difficult, is no surprise. But the depth of the discrimination in all areas was surprising even to the study's researchers. Key findings and analysis after the jump.


Hundreds of dramatic findings on the impact of anti-transgender bias are presented in this report. In many cases, a series of bias-related events lead to insurmountable challenges and devastating outcomes for study participants. Several meta-findings are worth noting from the outset:

• Discrimination was pervasive throughout the entire sample, yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural racism was especially devastating. People of color in general fare worse than white participants across the board, with African American transgender respondents faring far worse than all others in most areas examined.

• Respondents lived in extreme poverty. Our sample was nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000/year compared to the general population.i

• A staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population,ii with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%).

If ever any group needed law to help break the cycle of discrimination, this is it.

You can find the full report here.

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Angela Brightfeather | February 7, 2011 4:20 PM


Not to sidetrack the signifigance of this survey in any way, but I think some credit should go to two other organizations that paved the way for this survey.

Believe it or not, the first is HRC. When they came out with their so called survey of GLB people who were not for inclusion of the "T" in the ENDA legislation and then Barney Frank did his little "straw poll" survey of Congress, both of which helped to bury a fully inclusive ENDA to the point where it is now, at least two people got really ticked of, myself and Monica Helms.

Our immediate reaction was, "if their going to do surveys that are BS, then we should do one of our own that shows how dishonest they are." Thus the TAVA survey was immediately started and with over 1,000 survey respondents who are Transgender Veterans, we learned a great deal and what we learned is still impacting decisions today.

Shortly after the TAVA survey was hatched in conjunction with the Palm Center, NCTE and NGLTF followed that up with this survey and I am so glad they did. Because it tells the story of what many of our activists in the Transgender Community have been trying to tell for many, many years of sitting in support groups every evening across the country and experiencing. This survey provides the proof of what our people have been experiencing for all these years since people in our community who have been gathering in tight knit groups have been around. For me personally, that has been since 1970.

Now we must use this survey to educate others. We must learn the details of it so that we can finally answer people's questions about how many of us suffer and what percentages of us succeed or fail. About how our lives are impacted so radically by discrimination. We now have the figures and the numbers to tell people and ask them to put themselvesm in our shoes and try to lead a productive and free life.

I expect that over the next year, we will be pulling figures fro this study to reflect on how our families and our children are affected now and how many of us will be affected when we become senior citizens, as well as our needs from the medical community. The figures already show a huge percentage, certainly way above the average, of Trans people who are directly connected to the larger GLB Community and justification for making it the GLBT Community, despite those who reject inclusion.

While the survey results are so sad in pointing out many things, they are so good also in pointing out others. They give us a jumping of point to make many more improvements and it points us in directions that will allow us to focus on substantial issues and the reasons why so many things that others consider "normal living conditions" are not attainable for Trans people in our society.

This survey also points out that the divisions that have been created by some are the basic reasons why we have to work together to support each other and how those divisions only slow down our progress.

Thank you NCTE and NGLTF for finally helping to give us the proof of what we have known all along...that we are not treated as equal Americans and that our society can get even better by reversing that.

I started reading the survey last night and remember taking part in it.I question it's validity. How do they know that the respondents are in fact trans anything? I question the claim that transsexuals prefer the use of transgender an inaccurate insulting term to describe them.By far the vast majority of TS women I know can't stand the word transgender.Then in the survey they remove crossdressers from under the word transgender when in fact they are the ones the word was meant for.Pretty cover,proffessionally put together but worth less than toilet paper.Conservatives will tear it apart and sadly they might be right to do it.TS women need to work together to crawl out from under the transgender umbrella the lgb loves to push us under.

Hmm... so your take away from the report and all the data is to "... question the claim that transsexuals prefer the use of transgender an inaccurate insulting term to describe them...."

A book detailing problems accessing basic health care, jobs, and a place to live - and you get flubbed about TG vs. TS? Really??

OK, maybe I know a different set of women of various operative statuses than you do. However, generally the women I know are more worried about getting hassled by the cops than they ever will be about what word comes after "trans". The women I know are more concerned that their co-workers will find out what happened 5, 10, 20 years ago and cause problems than about how people identified on a survey.

Also, since you are focused on TG vs. TS - most trans men I know don't like TS and vastly prefer "TG", most trans women I know who came through the gay male community prefer TG, most trans women I know who date men ... you guessed it... either don't care at all or think TG is fine.

Most transmen I know are non operative in relations with women. Another words they are male living lesbians(Gender Queer think pregnant man). So why would a male living lesbian like the word TS? Also the majority of suicides I know of were FTM's and I think part of it is that they were never trans to began with but got caught up in transitioning for whatever reason a lesbian would choose to live as a man for.You also hit the nail on the head with the most Transwomen I know that came through the gay community prefer Transgender.The correct term for a Transsexual is Transsexual, transgender is just so gay.

Mara Keisling | February 8, 2011 8:05 PM

I am really disappointed that you would disrespect transmen so thoroughly and still feel comfortable being allowed in trans space. "Male living lesbians?" Come on, we are better than this. That is way over the decency line.

I'm afraid you have neither understood nor read the report, choosing instead to stick to this tedious "I'm the only real trans person" stuff.

Only 21% of crossdressers (p.176) reported suicide attempts (still more than 10X the national average). 43% of trans woman who had "surgically transitioned" reported attempts, compared to a lower but still high 39% of those who have not "surgically transitioned." (p.82) Rates among people of color--regardless of type of trans person or surgical status--are even higher. This is a real crisis that really needs our attention, so I'll stick to that rather than this new self-indulgent distraction.

Do you really think that only people who can afford surgery are transsexuals? What's the point? I ask that rhetorically--I think a conversation about whether the movement helps one group more over others is always worth having; trying to prove that trans people who can afford surgery are better than everyone else isn't.

Sorry Mara I disagree about being over the decency line or even that what I said is disrespectful.People Transition for all sorts of reasons sometimes those reasons are different then what are traditionally believed to be transsexual reasons.I didn't say all Transmen are male living lesbians are you saying that there are no male living lesbians that say they are Tmen? Are we as a group so thin skinned we can't have frank conversations about what truly motivates someone to transition? I know that I'm not the only person that is truly transsexual do you know that not everyone who claims to be TS/TG is?

Oh and Mara who are you to decide who should or shouldn't be allowed in Transpace,TS space or any other space? I might disagree with you and your survey but I'm not going to tell you whether you can or can't Identify as TS or TG or whether or not your welcome in any T space but what I will tell you is that you don't represent me.

Mara Keisling | February 8, 2011 9:03 PM

My point was simply that I have never seen such transphobic remarks in LGBT space (other than this weekend at the Creating Change conference when a person offended as many people as she could find with the same transphobic name calling). Someone needs to tell you that. I now have. It's up to Bilerico whether they want that in their space.

The attempted suicide statistic is, for me, too staggering to believe. I sent emails yesterday to the Task Force and NCTE
to ask how their statistics were gathered and reviewed, but haven't heard back yet.

I'm a transwoman and know several dozen transfolks. None that I know of has ever attempted suicide, though many of us
have had to deal with serious depression. If 41% of trans people really attempted suicide, would that many still be around
to answer this survey question?

Our situation is difficult enough without thinking that almost every other one of us is planning to end it all. I hope there's a
little more light shed on this extremely dark statistic.

I have 3 transwomen friends who have attempted suicide. Luckily they failed at it.

I think this survey is an important first step, however...

I notice from the methodology section of the survey that African American and Latino/Latina populations are strongly, even profoundly under-represented. Some of the stats might be very skewed, especially some like "age of transition" which tends to be much younger for these populations especially among trans women, which also impacts education stats, violence and employment totals.

Another issue which i find problematic is how crossdressers are included (or not) in the survey and the impact that has in terms of making the statistics seem more optimistic. Closeted crossdressers or part-time transgender people very likely have a much higher income level and rate of employment than do most 24/7 people who ID as trans since they're overwhelmingly still living out in the world as non-trans people. While there was some vague discussion of these issues in the "cleaning the data" section, the way it's dealt with seems confusing and not entirely clear how it impacted the ultimate results.

Moreover, there is no clear discussion (that I could see) in the study how these issues impact trans men and trans women differently. Anecdotally, I've seen a lot more employment discrimination against trans women than trans men, but I'd be interested to see how that's reflected in their stats (or not).

Mara Keisling | February 8, 2011 5:41 PM


Thanks so much for this wonderful post. And thanks to everyone for the reasonable discussion posted here. And let me especially thank laughrioTgirl AND Angela for exhibiting excellent perspective. They are right: the point here can't be our own personal politics and word preferences. Our people are really hurting--real people, real hurt.

As you know, I have often said that 92.6% of all statistics about trans people are made up, including this one. While I have said that ironically, what the survey does give us is the chance to look at how things really are rather than how we as individually think they are based on our own lives and on the people we know personally. That's the beauty and importance of a study of 6,450 people, a large percentage of whom, by the way are transsexuals of various op status who identify as transgender. The demographics of the sample, by the way, closely mirror the demographics of the U.S. population.

This study and future studies give us the basis to really understand who we are and what is happening to us every day. It's up to all of us now to work to solve these horrible and unfair problems.

Mara you say this study represents the demographics of the USA.But it only represents a very small percentage of the TS/TG population.Lynn Conway who by the way uses both Transsexual and Transgender in a way that lumps neither together did her own research in 2001 states that there is 30,000 to 40,000 post op transsexual women living in the USA.Add to them pre-op Transsexual women,Post-op Transmen and pre-op transmen and all those who identify as Transgender and your survey seems less impressive.I would love to see a survey of just those who have a verified clinical diagnoses of Gid and have been legally prescribed hormones and or had surgery or both.They could be either TS or TG identified but would be given the freedom to identify as the one they prefer exclusive of the other without pressure.

Still stuck on TG vs. TS only expanded to include a healthy dose of trans male dismissal? I guess a skipping record only plays the same few notes.

This was supposed to be in reply to amym440

Mara Keisling | February 8, 2011 6:02 PM

@amym440 Thanks for the comment and good question about the methodology. First let me say thank you for participating by completing the questionnaire.

As for who completed the survey, I'd refer you to page 183 of the report so you can see how we screened out non-trans people and classified all respondents such as you. Pages 24-26 also show the breakdown of people's identities as they described themselves.

There was a series of four questions that had to be answered in logical ways for the responses to be accepted and used. First, you were asked "Do you consider yourself to be transgender/gender non-conforming in any way?" Only people like you who said "yes" were allowed to continue.

Second, you were asked "What sex were you assigned at birth, on your original birth certificate?'

Question three was "What is your primary gender identity today?"

Finally, we asked in question 4 "For each term listed, please select to what degree it applies to you: not at all, somewhat, or strongly." The list of terms was 15 long and we allowed a 16th called "other, please specify." People were allowed to give multiple answers and many did, the most frequent combination being both "transgender" and either "transsexual," "FTM" or "MTF."

Interestingly, in the "other" category, about 500 people gave about 500 different words for their identity, often in combination with one or more of the prompted choices.

So we are confident that we have a large sample of transsexuals, all of whom, like you, responded in question 1 that they considered themselves "transgender/gender non-conforming."

Mara thank you for the wonderful response. In your response you state: "First, you were asked "Do you consider yourself to be transgender/gender non-conforming in any way?" Only people like you who said "yes" were allowed to continue."Simply put you forced the transgender Identity by not allowing a TS identity. You of all people should know better than this and you of all people should know and understand why there is hard feelings about the word Transgender by TS women. I see the numbers on suicide as being skewed and really needing a better breakdown.Are people who Identify as Transgender or are transgender more likely to commit suicide then someone who is clinically diagnosed as Transsexual and Id's as TS? The reason I ask this is what if a gender queer, a CD, or a male with lesbian fantasies, those who typically ID as Transgender go to far wouldn't they be more inclined to commit suicide? Other than one to young to know better person that I knew who committed suicide all the rest of the people I've met that killed themselves Identified as Tg.As for the employment stats most under employed or unemployed TS/TG people I've met were underemployed/unemployed before transition.Maybe in your next survey you could ask them if they'd hire themselves.The ones I've asked were shocked that I'd ask but all said they wouldn't hire themselves.I respect that you meant well in doing this survey but I don't believe this survey is either truthful or should be used to promote TS/TG rights.

how did they find the transgender people for this study? Would women and men of history who don't consider themselves "transgender" have been counted? Were genderqueer people counted? How about people who are flirting with transgender identity but may not have accepted that part of themselves yet?

Mara Keisling | February 8, 2011 8:57 PM

Yes Alex. The sample had 46% or about 3,000 people like amym440 who identified as transsexual (and transgender).

From: Mara Keisling

My point was simply that I have never seen such transphobic remarks in LGBT space (other than this weekend at the Creating Change conference when a person offended as many people as she could find with the same transphobic name calling). Someone needs to tell you that. I now have. It's up to Bilerico whether they want that in their space.

I am neither Transphobic or homophobic I simply disagree with you positions and the validity of your report.Also I would like to challenge you on what I see as your homophobia and transphobia.How is denying the existance of lesbian women who live as men not homophobic? How is denying that there is a wide spectrum of reasons why people transition not transphobic? I won't ask Bil to remove you because the one thing I love about Bilerico is that it allows diffferent views. Bil should you decide not to let me post anymore I'll be disappointed but thank you for having a wonderful blog and I'll continue to recomend your site.

Mara Keisling | February 8, 2011 10:24 PM


I think you need to think this through a little clearer. I'd be happy to speak with you directly but no more on comments. There should be a reasonable conversation here about issues, not word games. You may email me directly at [email protected] and I'd be happy to chat.

First, by definition "lesbian women" cannot by definition live as "men." What I am saying is transphobic is first that you said "Most transmen I know are non operative in relations with women. Another [sic] words they are male living lesbians(Gender Queer think pregnant man). So why would a male living lesbian like the word TS?" This is not me denying the existence of someone's identify; it is you assigning your preferred identity to people despite what they think. They say they are men; you say they are lesbians.
Further, I have not said anywhere that there were not lots of reasons to transition. But you said, "Also the majority of suicides I know of were FTM's and I think part of it is that they were never trans to began with but got caught up in transitioning for whatever reason a lesbian would choose to live as a man for." In other words, you deny their identity and then say they are so regretful, they attempt suicide. This is exactly what many transphobic people say about all trans people regardless of identity and status--just misguided, mentally ill people who need help, not rights.

I just think you need to think this all through more.

Mara I prefer to chat with you right here out in the open on Bilerico. You know that TS women don't like being shoved under the Transgender umbrella and why. Yet I was informed that at creating change you've informed everyone to just refer to TS and TG as Trans. I see that as nothing more than to keep trying to shove us under the same nasty umbrella and I reject it.
People can mistakenly identify as TS for many reasons. Take for instance a masculine lesbian that is constantly refered to as he and sir.Is it really such a stretch to assume they could began to falsely believe they should be TS? Or that they might just go with it thinking it's easier? Or what about gay men in Iran who face death? Don't you think more than a few of them became post-op and now that they are post-op they are women who are also gay men.So I still don't see how you can seriously accuse me of being Transphobic.Let me try restating it in a better way. Instead of everyone trying to find a one size fits all label or trying to push people into a label. Why aren't we just saying it's okay to be a lesbian living as a male? Or it's okay to be a heterosexual crossdresser.Or it's okay to be transsexual and it's okay to find out your not transsexual if you try it and decide your a crossdresser.No one should be ashamed by any of the labels but everyone should be mad when other people try to lump us all together especially with such a TS deragatory word like Transgender.

Mara Keisling | February 8, 2011 11:23 PM


I can't keep having the same tedious conversation. How can we have a logical conversation when you say "stop telling me how to identify and but I'll tell everyone how to identify." I'm done. Be well.

Tony Soprano | February 9, 2011 3:10 AM

Bimbalina wrote:
> "The attempted suicide statistic is, for me, too staggering to believe. I sent emails ... to the Task Force and NCTE to ask how their statistics were gathered and reviewed ... I'm a transwoman and know several dozen transfolks. None that I know of has ever attempted suicide ... If 41% of trans people really attempted suicide, would that many still be around to answer this survey question?"

Yes. Before SRS, my wife TWICE attempted suicide, but was rescued by family/friends.

BTW, this final report (and the original study), should have been reviewed by a Statistician prior to release. If not, then its validity is suspect.

Alex asked:
> "how did they find transgender people for this study?"

My wife and I saw the study mentioned on a Trans webgroup, and responded.

Mara Keisling | February 9, 2011 11:16 AM

I am so sorry I missed your comments and questions. Great questions. Yes, the suicide attempt number is shocking. Nonetheless, the numbers are also close to those found in at least three other surveys of trans people. While that in itself doesn't prove validity, it points in that direction. Importantly, the 41% number of people who ATTEMPTED suicide does not indicate that there might not be anyone left. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but the federal government studies show that fortunately only a few percent of attempts are successful--most fail.

Alex and Tony,
Before I get into the methodology, let me note because there is no way people would know this that I was a professional survey research person for two decades before my current work at NCTE. I worked for a polling firm, then ran an academic survey research center at Penn State, and then had my own research practice.
The survey was as rigorous as we could make it; this isn't the typical survey undertaken by activists. Prior to starting, we went through the Institutional Review Board at Penn State University, where Professor Sue Rankin works. Dr. Rankin is one of the foremost authorities on data collection from LGBT people, including trans people. With one or two exceptions, the research team was composed of researchers, not activists. Some of us were both; one person was primarily an activist.
Anyone who understands survey research will tell you, if they are honest, that there is no way to do a truly representative sample of trans people for several methodological reasons. That's partially why having a sample of 6,450 is so great--it really helps us overcome some of the inherent shortcomings.
Prior to fielding the survey, we created an up-to-date list of something like 1,000 service providers and about a 1,000 trans-oriented listservs and support groups. We used these two lists to promote the survey and drive traffic to the Penn State website that housed the survey and to service providers who had paper surveys to complete. The website and paper questionnaires were available in English and Spanish.

Mara Keisling | February 10, 2011 3:59 PM

Thank you everyone for a really great discussion. Please remember that the real point of the survey results is that we all have so much work to do to make the world safer.

Jillian in response to all this Transgender stuff I have decided to start a group for Transsexual women who want to reclaim the T. I'm sure your old enough like me to remember when LGBT stood for Lesbian,Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TmeansTranssexual/

Also I'd like ask all Transsexual supporting LGB people to join as well. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TmeansTranssexual/

CassandraToday | February 13, 2011 12:12 PM

It seems to me that part of the difficulty in this discussion is that different people are using different definitions of the words "transgender" and "transsexual".

Would anyone be willing to post their definitions of these two words? It would help me to better understand some of the comments.

Mara Keisling and "amym440" appear to be the most at odds on definitional issues, so I'd especially like to know what each of them says. But I'd welcome hearing from anyone else, too. Thanks.

I have no problem with showing my definition: Transgender would be anyone comfortable with their at birth reproductive organs
in working order. Transsexual would be anyone who has a desire to have surgery
regardless of their op status or as long as they have either taken enough
hormones or have been surgically altered in such a way that their reproductive
organs no longer function. A possible exception would be a person incapable of
starting hormones for medical reasons. Hope that suits your needs and shows that my definition is fairly loose and not meant to offend anyone.

I think of transgender as an umbrella term covering everyone from crossdressers to 24/7 transwomen and men, and transsexual as someone who fully identifies with the opposite anatomical gender of their birth. A transsexual may be pre- or post-op but would not be true or free to be themselves until they are living 24/7 in their perceived gender.

But for those in the "T" community to be arguing about definitions of these words seems very counter-productive to me. Anyone with a gender issue faces discrimination and misunderstanding by the world at large. The "T" community should be one place where we can all go and be cut some slack!

I identify as a transwoman and as a woman, depending on the context. I'm post-op. I work to help pass gender anti-discrimination laws. I have no problem being under the transgender umbrella.

The only thing that gets my panties in a bunch is the wrong pronoun.